BBC Good Food podcast – Product developer
In this episode, April Preston, food inventor for a well-known supermarket, shares her career story. Learn what it takes to have this dream job in food creation.
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In this episode, Miriam Nice chats with April Preston, director of product development at M&S. She has more than 30 years experience in retail, manufacturing and the restaurant industry.
April Preston's rural upbringing on a Devonshire farm piqued a hungry interest in food. April talks about everything from picking Christmas themes to getting a vindaloo ready-meal on shop shelves within eight days.
A business studies degree: ultimately, to be a great product developer, you need to have a great business brain and understanding. Imagine Alan Sugar with an encyclopaedic knowledge of food!
Food magazines and social media: every moment of every day, you need to be immersing yourself in the world of food. Your knowledge needs to be extensive and current.
Radio: listening to podcasts and great radio programmes is how I upskill and top up my knowledge bank while doing chores. I hardly ever miss an episode of BBC Radio 4's Food Programme. Sheila Dillon is a legend. I also try to listen to Farming Today whenever I can – essential listening to understand the challenges facing the beginning of the food chain.
Product development involves a lot of selling your concepts to other members of the team or inspiring teams to answer a great brief. Knowing how to create a compelling and inspirational story to support your concepts and ensure everyone is as excited about the opportunity you have identified is essential.
A book I've found invaluable is Your Perfect Presentation by Bill Hoogterp. It has useful tips on presenting to an audience and in terms of engaging people generally.
My current favourite restaurant is Sessions Art Club. You need to know what 'great' tastes like and how food works – eat out and cook as much as you possibly can.
A bit of an odd one, but essential for anyone who is seriously interested in being a great product developer: Watch the BRIT Awards acceptance speech from Taylor Swift, 2021. Once she gets through the thank yous, she does a brilliant job of inspiring pioneers. As a product developer you are a pioneer – you are driving change and taking steps into the unknown, which most people find uncomfortable. Most people want to do what they have always done as its safer, so you will experience lots of opposition and criticism. Nobody understands this better than Taylor and she articulates it brilliantly!
Director of product development April Preston has over 30 years of experience in retail, manufacturing and the restaurant industry. Brought up on a farm in Devon, April’s passion for food began during childhood, where her parent’s enthusiasm for food and cooking was an enormous source of inspiration. Growing their own vegetables, rearing meat and collecting milk straight from the cow gave April a thirst for food knowledge and quality standards that has never wavered. April has gone on to work for the UK’s largest food manufacturer and served as the executive head of food innovation at Harrods. She spent 18 years as a product developer for M&S before leaving the company in 2013. She's since returned as director. This depth of industry experience makes April a specialist in innovation, concept development, brand creation, consumer insight, food production and product and customer strategy.