Red’s Hot Women internship: THE FOODIE EXPERIENCE

18-03-10 – The sticky stuff

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 18, 2010

Early start today.  Up at six, out the door at seven, met Grant Newport, Quality Technologist at eight to drive out to Wallingford. Today I have been immersed in the wonderful world of honey!

Rowse Honey was established by beekeeper Tony Rowse in 1954 and has been supplying Waitrose for a staggering 50 years. Today Rowse make all of Waitrose’s own brand honey – and the customers are lapping it up. Waitrose is the biggest UK retailer of honey relative to its size.

There has been lots in the press about the decline in the UK bee population. In April 2008 it was reported that 30% of hives were lost that winter. It was interesting to hear more about this from the guys at Rowse who are very much on the campaign trail to raise awareness.

The company has invested £100,000 into a research project at Sussex University using selective breeding to combat the parasites responsible. Rowse have also been lobbying the government to take action. They’re still waiting to hear how Defra will be spending the money they’ve promised to invest in the industry.

Being a bit phobic of bees I was quite relieved to learn that the company don’t make the honey – they process and pack it. I’d been having awful premonitions of being made to put my hand in a bee hive to retrieve the honey. I had a photographer from Red Magazine with me today so had been imagining all kinds of ridiculous photo opportunities they’d try and orchestrate.

The reality was very different. Rebecca was really lovely and just happily snapped away in the background letting us get on with our day. It was a bit odd being papped from all angles but I just tried to forget about it.

So after a cuppa and introduction to the company it was time to get ready for a tour of the factory. Hairnets, sensible shoes, White coats, high visibility vests – ah the glamour! We followed the honey on its journey around the factory. Seeing the process up close reminds you what a gloriously natural product it is. Nothing gets added to it, no flavouring, no water, no preservatives.

It’s a highly controlled process though – there’s a massive emphasis on health and safety as well as quality checks of the product at regular intervals on its journey from raw quantity to jar.

This is where I really started to get a sense of Grant’s role as Quality Technologist. His eagle-eyed attention to every detail of the product is absolutely crucial in achieving Waitrose’s rigorous standards. The appearance, taste and texture of the honey is obviously really important. But the jar, the lid, the label and the date stamp are just as crucial.

Walking around the factory Grant was eagerly scanning all aspects of production to make sure everything’s up to scratch. After we’d had a tour of the factory we went to the test kitchens to taste samples of the honey and check they’re meeting all of Waitrose’s requirements.

It was fabulous getting to try all of the different honeys. From the delicate fragrant Spanish Orange Blossom honey to the rich toffee flavour of the Australian Eucalyptus, and onto the beautifully creamy and smooth British Clover – the range of tastes and textures is mind blowing. I’m definitely going to be more adventurous with the honey I buy in future!

Grant picked up on a dent in one of the lids – and thanks to the information on the date stamp the team at Rowse could swiftly identify the batch it had come from and precisely what time and where in the factory it had been handled to see if there had been any problems. Luckily it seems it was a one off and none of the other jars were affected. But that’s what Grant’s job is for. To spot inconsistencies before a customer does so it can get fixed.

He took me to the local Waitrose branch to show me how he checks all the ambient products in store for any inconsistencies – it could be wonky labels, product discolouration, or missing date stamps. To say that Grant is a perfectionist is an understatement – his car is immaculate!

It’s been another insightful day. A real privilege to meet the team at Rowse Honey who are so passionate about their product. And seeing Grant in action was awesome – no wonder Waitrose products are so flawless with him on the case!

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