Red’s Hot Women internship: THE FOODIE EXPERIENCE

10-03-10 – How the packaging gets the Waitrose look

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 11, 2010

Today’s mission was to get an inside look at not what goes into the products, but what the products go into – i.e.the packaging.

I got a very comprehensive tour of Hertfordshire based reprographics business Technik, a family run operation who print up the packaging for a lot of Waitrose’s lines.

The printing business has undergone a lot of changes since Technik first opened in 1976, and the company has moved with the times with an impressive array of digital technology, running alongside the analogue methods.

It was truly impressive checking out the gigantic whirring printing machines churning out thousands of sheets of printed material. Each step of the journey the paper collects a new colour which eventually builds up to the finished version. It was hypnotising to watch.

Ed Watts manages the Waitrose side of the business and works closely with the team at Head Office in Bracknell to bring the projects through from concept to creation. There are a lot of specialist people involved in the process and it’s Ed’s job to ensure everyone has a clear picture of what’s going on and keeps the wheels in motion.

There’s a staggering amount of detail that goes into a single piece of packaging. The choice of colours, the font, the image, all the logos, nutritional information, the weight of the product, the cooking instructions, the recycling information – I could keep going but you get the idea!

It’s crucial that the labelling is there, from a legal point of view as well as an informative one, and often there’s not much flexibility in exactly where these things are placed on the packaging.

I sat with Chris, a designer at Technik, who’s job it is to fit all of this into a coherent piece of artwork. She has years of experience and it’s clearly quite a skill to manipulate all of these elements into something that looks crisp, clean and has that unmistakably pleasing Waitrose finish!

I’ll never look at packaging in the same way again!

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11-03-10 – Bonus day

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 11, 2010

The morning kicked off with the bonus announcement. The office was buzzing with anticipation – I overheard many conversations with people speculating what the figure would be.

I headed down to the restaurant to grab some breakfast and watch this unique event. Everyone who works for John Lewis and Waitrose is a shareholder – so whether you’re the chairman or a checkout operator – everyone gets the same bonus.

The restaurant rapidly filled up with workers clamouring to see what the figure would be. Once the clock hit 9.30, a partner who’d been with the company for a staggering 41 years opened the crucial envelope and announced the bonus.

This year it’s 15% of workers’ salaries. Nice!

I went back up to the Development team where they were all busy discussing how they were going to spend their well earned dosh. Jealous? Me? Course!

The rest of my day was largely dominated by the weekly Product Panel. This is the crucial moment where products that the team have been working on get tasted and hopefully approved by a panel made up of the senior Brand Development team so they can then go forward to hit the shelves of Waitrose.

The products up for discussion today were beef and lamb, cakes, fruit juice, cheeses and chocolates.

The Product Developer, Buyer and Technologist are all there to present their product and give the panel a full insight into the journey they’ve been on to reach this point.

Sometimes there are still some tweaks to be made to the recipe, but today I’d say about two thirds of the products were approved.

It was amazing being in on the discussions and sampling all of the food. These guys are such incredible experts in their field – I’m learning so much!

The last task of the day was to cook up yet another batch of party food in the mix for the Waitrose Christmas offering. It was great to be in the kitchen helping out – it’s probably where I feel most at home!

09-03-10 – PR girl about town

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 9, 2010

Today I got back to my media roots and spent the day with ZPR in Soho. They look after Waitrose and work to get them as much positive press coverage as possible.

Having worked as a journalist for 11 years I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone to PR people, so I was really looking forward to sampling life on the other side of the fence!

I thought it was all parties, champagne and frivolity – but no such luck! The girls in the office were nose to the grindstone all day and the only champagne I saw was sat unopened on a desk gathering dust.

The morning kicked off with a conference call with the in-house PR team at Waitrose. They ran through all the stories in the pipeline with journalists from various media outlets and all the progress that had been made by ZPR.

It was fascinating getting an inside look at how the brand is being managed and the type of stories that are set to be published in the following weeks.

Waitrose has real column inch appeal – whether it be the hot new product that has the upmarket foodie mags gasping, a new loo roll made with cashmere that gets the broadsheets chattering or maybe the story of a local producer whose fantastic new range is the buzz of the business pages. It’s all there to work with!

I got to hang out with cool New Yorker Nora and sample her day. She spends a lot of her time obtaining Waitrose products for journalists to try out.

So with a shopping list in hand we hot footed it through Soho, via an ultra cool deli for a quick salad, to the food hall at John Lewis Oxford Street. What an emporium!

It was wonderful having a good old browse around all the amazing products. It’s Waitrose stuff, but there are lots of lines that you can only find in the food hall – really niche. Foodie heaven basically.

The booze section is particularly impressive. One of the specialists on the shop floor gave me loads of insight into which wines and champagnes were worth a look – nice one! I spotted a wine on sale for £725! Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2005 if you’re interested. Apparently it’s not a bad price for what it is and 2005 is one of very few vintage years. Listen to me, I sound like a total wine toff! Brilliant!

So it was back to the office and time to prepare for goodie bag assembly. The mission was to prepare 35 bags of Waitrose loveliness to distribute to a handpicked list of consumer journos in the morning.

What a monster task! We’re not talking little delicate gift bags, we’re talking hessian bag for life size bags and a gazillion full size products to neatly pack inside.

A few hours later we got them sorted – but boy did we work for it! I have a whole new respect for PR folks – it’s graft alright! Let’s hope we’re rewarded by some good mentions in the papers this week. I’ll be watching avidly!

08-03-10 – In the kitchen

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 8, 2010

I rolled up my sleeves and donned an apron today to help Kathryn, Brand Development Technologist, in the kitchen.

A bit of housekeeping to start – making sure all the industrial sized fridges and freezers were cleared of out of date produce to make room for all the new samples. This is where all the team keep their products ready for tasting. There’s an amazing array of stuff in there – it was pretty interesting having a browse!

The Product Developers book one of the tasting rooms and when it’s time for their session they bring their stuff to the kitchen to be prepared. There are three tasting rooms so it can get quite busy.

Lamb joints, lamb chops and sausages were in first, filling the kitchen with mouth watering smells. It’s a pretty sociable place to hang out – everyone seems to pop their head in to the kitchen at some point for a chat or scrap to eat!

Next up came trays and trays of party food. It was a continuation of Friday’s tasting session but this time lots of stuff to be cooked from frozen.

Sometimes the team are comparing an existing product with a new version, sometimes producers send different versions of the same kind of product so the team can choose which ones they prefer, or it might be a sample of something the supplier is working on that needs fine tuning to get to the finished result.

After a sunny lunchtime jog and quick sandwich it was on with the afternoon’s proceedings.

The team were doing their regular quality checks of one of their ranges of frozen vegetables.

Appearance frozen, appearance cooked, flavour, and texture were all graded for each product.

It’s very reassuring to know how much detail Waitrose goes into to make sure their products are of an excellent standard.

Being in the kitchen was fab today – great to get another perspective. I have to say I was loving the industrial cooker with multiple shelves! The industrial dishwasher is incredible too – it only takes about five minutes to wash dishes – I want one!

05-03-10 – The Main Man

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 5, 2010

Today I finally met Waitrose’s Executive Chef Neil Nugent. He’d been out of the office most of the week cooking for hundreds of people at the Annual Conference at Celtic Manor.

So there was a real buzz today with everyone vying for Neil’s attention – getting him to taste their food so they could get his all important opinion, chatting to him about their projects and basically enjoying a bit of banter with him!

I was steeling myself for an ultra serious and scary chef, but Neil is a really warm and funny guy who is clearly adored by the team. He’s got a huge passion for what he does and despite being super busy he still manages to appear really laid back about life.

I spent the bulk of the day tasting Christmas party foods! It was quite a marathon session – over two hours of continual tasting.

I’ve finally mastered the taste and spit routine. I started off the week eating the samples, but after yesterday’s cake session I couldn’t face another evening with a sore tummy.

You’d think it’d be heaven eating all this food – but unless you’re one of those power eaters who takes part in pie eating contests, it’s actually pretty challenging.

There were some really gorgeous canapés though – shame we couldn’t have got the santa hats, wine and Christmas music out!

The Development Team are working on so many exciting projects at the moment, I feel really lucky to be behind the scenes. Apologies for the lack of detail in my blog, but for obvious reasons I can’t talk about a lot of what I’m seeing and doing!

So that’s my first week done and dusted. After nearly a year away from the workplace it’s felt really revitalising getting back into a professional environment. I feel more like me again and ready to launch myself back into the working world! I’m going to really soak up the next three weeks and sharpen my focus on my future prospects.

04-03-2010 – Cakes, doughnuts, pastries, tarts and Yum Yums!

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 5, 2010

Well today I’ve sampled my bodyweight in baked goods and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat again!

We visited Hayden’s Bakeries in sunny Wiltshire who make all kinds of delicious sweet things for Waitrose.

We started the day with a chat over coffee and freshly baked pastries.

Then it was time to get kitted out for a tour of the factory. Hairnets, white coats and special shoes – see me not quite rocking the look below!

It was captivating watching the raw ingredients go on their journey around the factory to be transformed into the perfectly finished products you see on the shelves or behind the cake counter at Waitrose.

You feel like you’re in Gulliver’s Kingdom with all the oversized scales, mixers and ovens dwarfing the workers operating them.

I was really impressed to see how the staff also hand finish things to give them a truly artisan look.

We saw doughnuts being iced and sprinkled, cream lovingly spread across sheets of pastry the size of my kitchen table and dozens of Yum Yums paddling across a pool only to be doused with lashings of icing at the other end. I think I’ll still be dreaming about it when I go to sleep!

Someone asked me if it was impossible to eat too much cake – well I think I finally reached that point in the development kitchen.

Plate after plate of utterly delicious cakes, pastries and tarts were handed around for us to try.

I’m starting to understand why some of the team subtly spit out the food they’re tasting into a cup after each mouthful. But something in me just finds the concept of gobbing out perfectly gorgeous food just plain wrong.

On the way home from the bakery we stopped off to check out a local branch of Waitrose. It was great to put everything I’ve seen and tasted so far this week into the context of a store.

It’s only been four days but I already feel like I’ve learned an incredible amount this week.

The team are being very generous with the way they share the benefit of their knowledge and experience with me. They always take the time to explain everything and include me in their conversations. What a privilege!

03-03-10 – The word is out

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 4, 2010

Well first thing’s first – the hush-hush exciting announcement is in the public domain – Waitrose is teaming up with Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal for a massive advertising campaign!

One mention of an ingredient by Delia gets home cooks stampeding into the supermarkets – this is going to be a powerful project me thinks.

Waitrose is the supermarket choice of foodies, so Heston’s alliance with the brand will sure to get the more experimental market covered off.

It’s not two names you’d ordinarily put together, but I’m really looking forward to watching the campaign unfold. What a great time to be here!

Back in intern land I started the day with ‘benchmark fruit tasting’. This involved sampling three plates of the same fruit and scoring it out of 10 on things like looks, texture and flavour. Really fascinating how they can differ and the guy holding the panel gave me some top tips of what to look out for.

Did you know that the spots on the skin of nectarines shows that they’ll taste sweeter coz they’ve got more sugar in? Brilliant!

Went along to a meeting with a supplier and their development chef. Watched as they cooked up their products for us to taste. It’s great being in on the discussions as the Waitrose Team chat about what works/doesn’t work with the type of products we’re sampling and where they see them sitting within their ranges.

I’m such a supermarket geek – I’m totally lapping it all up!

I fitted in my run today to attempt to burn off all this food tasting! Got slightly lost in a housing estate in Bracknell but found my way back to Waitrose HQ with the help of my trusty iPhone GPS!

02-03-10 Celtic Manor, Wales – Waitrose Managers’ Conference

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 3, 2010

After an early morning coffee-fuelled trip down the M4, we crossed the spectacular Severn Bridge into Wales and on to Celtic Manor. A bit different from the school run!

Today’s mission – to help the Development Team promote their successes and VERY exciting immininent launches at the annual Waitrose Managers’ Conference. Shhhhhhh it’s TOP SECRET!!!!

I was helping out on the essential Waitrose stall – celebrating its first year since launch. It was a proper party – balloons, cake and essential Waitrose nibbles of course! It was really interesting getting feedback from all the Branch Managers on how the range is going down with customers in their stores.

It’s clear that people were a bit sceptical of how it would perform when it first launched – but one year on and it’s flying off the shelves and customers have taken it to their hearts. I know it’s converted me as a mum who shops on a budget but doesn’t want to skimp on quality.

Walking around the impressive array of stalls I really got a sense of the innovative work that the Development Team are involved in. It’s more than my life’s worth to spill the beans on some of these awesome projects…BUT you will be dazzled when it’s finally revealed!

I’ve had some great chats with the staff today – I’m trying to find out as much as possible about their back-stories to see what paths they’ve taken to get where they are in the industry.

I’m still adjusting to being constantly surrounded by food. You really have to pace yourself! Today’s highlights were a deliciously moist macaroon, blueberry iced dessert made from sheep’s milk that’s ridiculously healthy (yes really) and a plate full of delicious curries from Waitrose’s new Menu From range. Yum, yum, YUM!

REALLY need to go for a run tomorrow!!!

01-03-10 First day at Waitrose

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 1, 2010

After 11 months of maternity leave it felt heavenly to be back in the adult world today! Waitrose is a truly welcoming and inspirational environment. There’s so much going on and the staff all feel very happy to be there.

I had a short induction to the ways of Waitrose and then it was down to business. I was introduced to all the Food Developers on the team who are in charge of their specialist areas – ranging from biscuits and snacks to ready meals and cheese – they’re all such experts with so much experience that I feel really honoured to get even a snapshot of their working day.

Doing “grown-up” working experience in my thirties is a world away from my very first work experience placement, aged 14 on my local magazine where you’re just some spotty geek who feels in the way and unable to really get involved. It’s really liberating to have the confidence to chat to all these industry specialists who I wouldn’t ordinarily have access to and just get stuck in!

It’s so refeshing to be working in such a different environment. I’ve worked as a journalist for 11 years but am SO ready to try something new. This competition couldn’t have come at a better time for me!

On the agenda today was familiarisation with the buildings, the team and their working practices. I managed to take part in two tasting panels where I had the opportunity to try out products that are being developed for Waitrose. I quickly realised being on a diet was going to be more than a challenge this month!

It’s fascinating as a consumer watching how the team decide what it is about a product they like – and what elements need changing to make the grade. It’s an incredible privilege.

I’ve got a pretty varied and impressive schedule for the month and I’m really excited about what’s in store. Tomorrow I’m off to Wales for the Annual Conference where I’ll be on the “Waitrose Essentials” stand, alongside all the other new and stand-out ranges. It’s going to be a great introduction to what this supermarket powerhouse has to offer.