People behind the product: Meringues fit for a King
We spoke to Lead Product Developer, Naomi Blair, Buyer, Lily King, and Food Technologist, Chantal Cook, about how they got our white, red and blue meringue clouds from idea to shelf in just four months and how they feel about seeing their product in store in time for the King’s Coronation.
Where did the original idea for the meringue clouds come from?
“Meringues are a huge part of the home-baking category for M&S and we wanted to see how we could make them even bigger and better! We’d seen giant meringues in a few independent bakeries and delis and loved the idea, but we wanted to make them truly unique for M&S. The Coronation presented the perfect opportunity, which is where the beautiful red and blue swirls came from!”
How were you able to get the product to stores in just four months?
“To make this happen, we had to be extremely agile to make decisions quickly.
We had to work closely as a team, with our supplier and with stakeholders internally to get the support we needed to set this supplier up to work with us. This meant doing team visits to the production site to troubleshoot any issues, helping the supplier prepare for a successful audit, giving support in completing specifications, and being responsive and open with each other. We had weekly calls to discuss any questions, which was particularly helpful for the supplier who are small and artisanal and not used to dealing with big retailers. Our supplier acted with pace on anything asked of them and we worked through challenges faced collaboratively. Having a positive, pragmatic and tenacious attitude and working with drive and determination really helped us get product to stores on time!”
How did you work together as a team?
“As a category team we work extremely close together, and very much act as the ‘three-legged-stool’ of product-technical-buying. We had to balance the product amends Naomi would like to see with the commercial targets Lily needed to hit and the technical requirements from Chantal. We will only proceed with a product if all 3 key functions are happy and work together to tackle any issues or queries head-on.
Due to the speed of this project, working collaboratively was even more important, and it’s a testament to our great working relationship that we managed to pull it off! With any new product, it’s a balancing act and created a healthy tension to get us to the end result.
We also must credit our amazing supplier who we’ve built a really strong relationship with, and are extremely proactive and positive, and just a joy to work with!”
What was your role in the creation of the meringue clouds?
Naomi: “As the Lead Product Developer for home-baking, it’s my job to come up with new and exciting products, working right from product concept through to launch to ensure products look and taste amazing for our customers. I worked closely with the supplier to develop these stunning meringue clouds, going through multiple iterations to ensure that the end product was right for M&S. We must have tried at least 10 different versions, spanning different flavours, shapes and colours, before we landed on the final product which is now in stores.”
Lily: “As a buyer, my role when creating any product is to ensure we create a stand-out M&S quality product at a great price for our customers. For the meringue clouds specifically, we had to ensure to deliver this, combined with supporting our new, small supplier with any challenges as part of the set up process and the unique requirements for a company producing an M&S product! This involved regular check-ins with the supplier and a visit to their site to understand their production process and any complications or factors we need to take into account.”
Chantal: “My role was to help onboard our new artisan supplier in a short time frame. This involved helping them to understand the M&S standards through site visits and meetings.”
Were there any considerations/challenges that needed to be worked through?
“As with any launch, there are always challenges, from commercials through to product shelf life. Because these products launched into the in-store bakery fixture, rather than the Groceries fixture, there were a whole new set of challenges and parameters to work to, but we worked closely across the teams to overcome any challenges and ensure the supplier always felt comfortable.
Packaging was a huge challenge with the speedy launch we needed. Due to the increase in lead times seen recently, we didn’t have time to order packaging for the product in time for launch. We therefore decided to range the product in our In Store Bakery where packaging is not required.”
How does it feel to see a product you’ve worked on in store?
Naomi: “I’ve been a developer for 7 years but it never gets old seeing your products on the shelves It’s really rewarding to see your vision brought to life and being enjoyed by thousands of people across the UK. It makes all the hard work worth it!”
Lily: “It’s always such a proud moment when you see a product in store that you have worked so hard on! I feel particularly proud seeing these meringues on shelf, knowing that we have managed to launch these in record time - and because they look so beautiful on shelf!”
Chantal: “It is a great sense of achievement knowing how much effort goes into each one our products and to see them finally landing in store. It also makes me really proud to see the response to new products we’ve launched on social media.”
What makes M&S a special place to work?
Naomi: “M&S is a fast-paced, challenging and exciting environment to work in, where no two days are the same. As a Product Developer, it’s so rewarding to work for a company that is just as obsessed with great quality, delicious food as I am. I love that we will only launch a product if we are truly proud of it and know that it is of the highest possible quality. This really sets M&S apart from the competition. It also helps that I have the best team in the business and getting to work with smart, driven, passionate colleagues who have become good friends is the cherry on top!”
Lily: “M&S is a special place to work because everyone is so supportive and willing to help with any challenge! Everyone is so passionate about getting great products onto our shelves and goes the extra mile to achieve this!”
Chantal: “I love that my role allows me to work collaboratively with different people and teams. Also, I love the process of helping small suppliers become M&S suppliers and guiding them on the journey to make great, unique products.”