Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Early days in Ashby (Leicestershire) - Part 2

I had made a number of assumptions about my new job at United Biscuits that proved to be incorrect. The combined effect of all of these was to make my time there both unhappy and professionally unproductive. Well, I say assumptions, perhaps more correctly I should say that I had expected what was told to me both at and after my interview would bear at least some resemblance to what really happened!

I had expected that the job – Product Development Technologist – would make use of the knowledge and skills I had acquired during my three year degree course at Nottingham University. It is fair to say that it didn’t. The creative side of the work was done by the departmental chef (Bill Tidman), and the scientific and technical aspects of manufacturing the tiny percentage of products that made it through the product development cycle from initial concept to product launch was almost always done by factory staff based at the relevant United Biscuits’ sites.

Convenience Foods, where I was based, was the smallest of the three product development groups and was very much the poor relation in terms of the number and range of products being worked on. When I arrived the focus of the section was almost entirely on “KP Ooodles” which was a Japanese idea with a pilot plant initially in Carlisle and then in Grimsby. It was never a particularly high quality product and since the only place it was being manufactured was 3 hours away from the base of staff tasked with over-seeing its manufacture it was rather a poisoned chalice that people were happy to unload onto me.

Eventually there was some diversification into instant wheat – a good idea that never seemed to take off – and also into pouch packed meals. These meals, initially produced under the name of Howards Haute Cuisine, had a manufacturing base in Fakenham (Norfolk). Again this was a lengthy journey from Leicestershire and it should have clear to the bosses that having a research base in the middle of the country responsible for products only manufactured on the east coast wasn’t a great idea!

As a scientific aside - the under processing of the pouch packs was potentially quite a serious issue public health issue and even with hindsight I don't understand why the quickest and easiest solution wasn't adopted.

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