Retail relations

Related tags Product development Cooking

Retail relations
Asda chef Neil Nugent gives Sarah Britton his views on NPD as Food Manufacture delves inside the mind of one of UK retail's top creatives

How did you get into new product development (NPD)?

I used to work in a Michelin starred restaurant in Leeds called Pool Court, which was just across the river from Asda House. I applied for a job there training buyers to be more food aware and that led to my current role.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

The great thing about my job is it's different every day. At the moment we're looking at how to approach the pie sector.

I also have a quality control role - a daily sign-off process to make sure I'm happy with the food being produced.

One-on-one coaching with members of the Asda team is another part of my job and I also run courses for product managers who want to learn about a specific area.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

With Asda I've been everywhere - Australia, India, Thailand. It's not just an opportunity to go to restaurants, it's a chance to understand at every level how food is cooked, prepared and grown.

I've just been to Chile for a week. There are a lot of interesting grape varieties out there and I also visited a cooking school.

What are the most challenging aspects to your role?

My key frustration is the supply base - a lot of innovation is briefed from retailers, not the other way round. Nothing pleases me more than a pro-active supplier, but it doesn't happen enough.

What are the key skills required for this line of work?

My culinary background has been invaluable to get me through the day. I've been to sous vide school and a Parisien baking school. I do some kind of educational qualification every year.

How does NPD in food manufacture compare with working in catering?

The greatest innovation here is improving what we already do. Fundamentally, we're always going to sell steak pies, but I have to ask myself whether the pie we sold last year is good enough for this year.

How does the product development process work?

Because we're a large business, there's a structured process you have to adhere to - it can be a 40 week process or a six to eight week process depending on if you hit the road running. The best approach is to forward plan.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm looking at how to cook meat. In manufacture, everything tends to get boiled. It's a fundamental mistake to cook bolognese for 20 minutes - speak to an Italian, they'll cook the meat for five hours.

I'm working out the ideal temperature for different proteins. We're using sous vide techniques and cooking at a low temperature for a long time. The meat ends up tender because we haven't boiled it to death.

Do manufacturers influence caterers?

I've learnt more about food working in retail than I ever would have done working in kitchens because I've learnt about marrying ingredients. Molecular gastronomy is a classic food manufacturing technique and steamers and thermo blenders are now hitting restaurant kitchens.

Clean labels: essential to NPD or holding back true innovation?

I think that getting rid of unnecessary ingredients is a brilliant idea. It's a real shake-up of product development mentality.

How does UK NPD compare with the rest of the world?

There are still plenty of unanswered questions: How do we get food fresher? How do we challenge the food miles issue?

We're only scratching the surface now. FM

Related topics NPD

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