*A version of this article originally appeared on Boots Jobs
When the clock strikes midnight on November 30, the countdown to Christmas officially begins. As the carols start to ring and trees are adorned with decorations, it’s time to get excited about reuniting with loved ones, searching for the perfect presents, and feasting on your favorite festive food.
While most of us only need to worry about serving a feast for a few family members, Amanda Johnson, an assistant food development manager at Boots UK, is responsible for tingling the taste buds of an entire nation.
Having worked at Boots for 24 years, Johnson has the exciting challenge of developing the highly-anticipated Boots owned-brand food products that hit the shelves each holiday season.
From the classic Pigs Under Blankets and Prawn Cocktail Sandwiches, to the alternative Vegan No Turkey Feast, we spoke to Johnson to discover exactly what goes into creating the perfect meal deal products for Boots UK:
Tell us about your role and team
I’m an Assistant Food Development Manager based at Boots UK’s Nottingham Support Office. As part of a small team of packaging and product development experts, I support the development of Boots branded food products that are offered in our inclusive meal deal.
What does an Assistant Food Development Manager do?
Firstly, it’s important to keep up to date with food trends, which means following food blogs, chefs, food writers and menu reviews, as well as attending trade shows and food forums. Developing products inspired by creative chefs and food trends is at the core of the role.
While we’re lucky enough to taste and review a range of products to help us benchmark against competitors, it’s also important that we seek advice from the Company Nutritionist to develop the best credentials for our range.
As well as working very closely with our suppliers to develop new products and packaging that meet our brand standards, I also maintain a bank of imagery and collaborate with other teams around the business to launch new lines.
What does it take to get Boots Christmas meal deals on the shelves each year?
In October 2020, we launched ten new products for our Christmas range. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to our food development process:
We start working on our Christmas food range at around February time using our trend analysis, competitor review and market data from the previous Christmas.
- Brief our suppliers
We use these learnings to brief our suppliers on the products we would like to see form our upcoming range. There are always some familiar favorites, such as the Turkey Feast, Pigs Under Blankets and Brie and Cranberry sandwiches.
Next, I work with our packaging manager, buyer and design agency to create the look and feel of the Christmas packaging, taking cues from the in-store marketing collateral where possible.
- Product Approval
Once we’ve tasted all the delicious Christmas products – usually in the middle of summer – the products are approved and the next stage of development continues. The products are then trialed on a large scale at the manufacturers, and our technical development team ensures they meet all the safety, quality and legal requirements.
Then we’re good to go! Bon Appétit!
Here's the question everyone must ask… Do you eat a lot of meal deals?
Yes, daily! As well as tasting the products that are presented to us by our suppliers during the development process, we also try the products from our daily product quality assessments. It’s a great way for us to stay familiar with the products that have launched too.
How has COVID-19 affected customers’ food shopping habits?
COVID-19 is creating some challenges. There are less people traveling through airports and train stations, which means they’re not picking up a meal deal for their journey. Local and national lockdowns also mean there are less people out and about on the high street, and fewer people in offices stopping off to buy their lunch.
What's the most innovative item you put on the Boots UK shelves this Christmas?
Vegan products have become increasing popular over the last couple of years, so we’re proud of our mouth-watering Vegan Xmas Market-inspired sandwich, made from vegan seasoned sausage, roasted white cabbage, onion chutney and vegan mayo, with fried onions and mustard. Delicious!
What do you love about your role?
No two days are the same; the role is so varied! I love food, cooking, eating, and learning about ingredients and trends, so I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m also lucky to be part of a lovely team, which just makes it even better!
Finally, what is your favorite meal deal?
After all the exciting product reviews and tasting that goes on, one of my all-time favorite sandwiches is a classic… cheese & onion! I usually pair it with a watermelon snack and a bottle of water.