Megan Sinclair, New Product Development Manager for Whittaker’s says developing a new product always brings twists and turns, but creating the new Whittaker’s Berry Forest under COVID-19 conditions was a whole new kind of challenge.
“As a supplier to supermarkets, we were designated an essential service, so we continued to operate throughout. But Whittaker’s went above and beyond, even before lockdown, taking additional precautions to protect the health and safety of our workforce, and maintain our supply chain to supermarkets.”
Sinclair says that while some production lines at Whittaker’s Porirua factory were shut down to reduce numbers on the floor at any one time, her product development team also rapidly adapted to maintain their momentum.
“We were ‘tag-teaming’ in the test kitchen, and working remotely wherever possible. As always my kids were more than happy to be impromptu taste testers!”
Encased in Whittaker’s 33% Five Roll Refined Creamy Milk Chocolate, the hero ingredients of Whittaker’s Berry Forest are a predominantly cherry-favoured jube – with a hint of boysenberry – and dark cocoa biscuit pieces.
“I really wanted the distinctive taste of New Zealand boysenberry to come through alongside the cherry. So being able to add real fruit concentrate was very important, plus the texture balance between jube, biscuit and chocolate.”
Bringing these diverse elements together successfully requires a methodical development process to ensure the product quality remains world-class throughout its 12-month shelf life. While COVID-19 had the potential to delay this process for the development of Whittaker’s Berry Forest, Sinclair said the family-owned company’s integrated culture enabled an agile response.
“My team and I aren’t in a bubble just doing our food technology work. From conception to launch we’re always in close collaboration with the production, sales, quality and marketing teams, Andrew and Brian Whittaker and the rest of the leadership team. Great internal communication is always critical to new product development, and even more so when we were adapting to unprecedented changes for our workforce, suppliers and customers.”
The team were even able to work remotely with high profile Whittaker’s Chocolate Lover, Nigella Lawson, to produce the TV commercials for the new product, which is a testament to Nigella’s professionalism and genuine passion for Whittaker’s.
Sinclair's own passion for her work comes from her boundless enthusiasm for the science of flavour.
“I love that every product is different and I get to experiment until each product is perfect. Sometimes perfection takes time; last year we explored all new dimensions of working with caramel for our Whittaker’s Brewed Ginger Caramel collaboration with Bundaberg, and this year I’ve been all about jubes and concentrating on real fruit concentrates!”