Inside the Kitchen: meet the NPD team
The NPD or ‘New Product Development’ team are the rock stars responsible for the concept development and testing of the delicious itsu products you see on the supermarket shelves. Every last gyoza, seaweed thin, bao’bun, and noodle cup was one day just an idea. It’s up to them to travel across the world, find the best ingredients, meticulously test each recipe, and then, if all falls into place… create and package them so that they can go on to be successful products.
If one team had a claim to be the beating heart of itsu’s supermarket business, it would probably be the NPD team. Without them, the sales team would have nothing to sell, the marketing team would have nothing to market, and so on and so forth! I will be venturing into their kitchen to chat to a couple of them and get some insight into their roles and creative processes. I will also be getting the inside scoop on one of our most popular ever products.
Katherine Austin: NPD manager
Am I right in saying you are the person behind the itsu gyoza dumplings? The UK public owes you a great debt. How many gyoza do you think you have tried?
Katherine: That’s an interesting question! I genuinely don’t know, maybe 1000? Probably more!
In the 5 years I’ve been at itsu [grocery], we’ve launched 8 flavours of gyoza and developed many more that didn’t quite make the cut! We spend months perfecting the final recipes, meticulously folding gyoza wrappers and analysing the flavours and textures of the filling. Many of the gyoza will have gone through 100 different recipes iterations before a final sign off… so yes, definitely more than 1000!
How did you end up in the itsu NPD department?
Katherine: I have always been passionate about food; you’d most likely find me in my parent’s kitchen baking or cooking for my family. I studied Food and Nutrition at Sheffield Hallam University, which is where I discovered that you could get paid for developing food products! I instantly knew that’s what’s I wanted to do and was hired by itsu straight out of university.
Apart from all the free food, what’s the coolest part of your job?
Katherine: I’ve been very fortunate to get to do lots of travelling since being at itsu [grocery]. I’ve visited South Korea over 5 times and visited Japan where my love of Asian cuisine grew even more.
Chloe Demetriou: Artwork and Packaging Project Manager
What is an Artwork and Packaging Project Manager?
Chloe: “As the Artwork & Packaging Project Manager, I am responsible for managing the entire packaging artwork process end to end as well as supporting the NPD team to develop new and exciting product design concepts. I work with lots of different teams in the business to ensure the artwork process runs smoothly so that we can launch our delicious products on time and in beautiful packaging. As the NPD team come up with innovative new product ideas, I work closely with them to think of the most suitable and sustainable packaging concepts.”
What do you think will be the biggest change in itsu packaging over the next two years?
Chloe: “As itsu [grocery] continues to grow as a business, we are looking to expand our product range, which means developing lots of new & innovative packaging concepts. We have been doing a lot of work to improve the sustainability of our packaging and will soon be re-launching our popular udon’noodles pots with a 100% recyclable pot, sleeve and foil lid. Industry recycling standards continue to change and evolve so I will be keeping a close eye on these to ensure we can offer sustainable packaging solutions. We’ve got a few exciting ideas in the pipeline so keep your eyes peeled!”
The itsu Chicken Gyoza
The NPD team like to name our gyoza by their recipe numbers. For example, our signature chicken gyoza is affectionately known as ‘chicken dumpling no.74‘. I’m sure the first 73 recipes were delicious, but the team weren’t happy until they tasted ‘number 74’.
Leading the dumpling division is our very own ‘gyoza master’ Katherine, who I introduced earlier. She has helped me tell some of our chicken gyoza story below
Mastering the Recipe
It all started back in 2016. The NPD team, which back then consisted of Katherine, our Founder Julian and our Managing Director Claudia, had just developed and launched our king prawn, vegetable fusion, and sesame tuna gyoza flavours. A chicken gyoza had long been in their sights, as one of the most popular gyoza on any menu, and a clear winner on the supermarket shelves.
The team knew they had to get this right the first time, and that sourcing the right ingredients would be incredibly important. Katherine started by setting up a makeshift development kitchen in her family home in Essex where she worked for countless hours trying different flavour combinations. Day by day, week by week, they got closer until everyone was happy with the final recipe. They were ready to make the first bags of itsu chicken gyoza.
I hope this has given some insight into how an NPD team works. The team has grown a lot since the days of the chicken gyoza. There are now 9 full time members of the team, I only wish I had time to speak to them all!
Thank you to Kathrine and Chloe for taking time out of their busy days to talk to me, and to Katherines parents, for letting her take over their kitchen… who knows what would have become of the itsu chicken gyoza without them!