Name: Alvagh Johnson

Age: 28

Job title: NPD manager

Company & location: Pollen & Grace, London

Education: BSc Culinary Entrepreneurship, Technological University Dublin & MA Food Business Management, University of West London

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? As an eight-year-old I wrote an essay about how I was going to have ‘the same job as Nigella Lawson’. She was my idol, so much so that for my ninth birthday my mum took me to London to her book signing in Selfridges. That signed copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess is still one of my most prized possessions!

Why did you decide to go for a career in food & drink? I’ve always known I would work in food. I’ve grown up surrounded by the fishing and farming industries, and an appreciation for quality ingredients has been instilled in me since day one.

My dad is a fisherman, so growing up I witnessed the tremendous effort and commitment that goes into fishing. This led to my total fascination with the food value chain, and for the process of farm-to-fork.

Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): At Pollen & Grace our goal is make delicious, healthy food accessible to everyone – and help people to build healthier eating habits. My role involves all elements of the development of our products from ideation through to launch.

“Joining an ambitious, female-founded, startup food company means you are always driving forward for growth and development”

What does a typical day look like for you? There’s a lot of variation in my role day-to-day. We are currently working on lots of exciting NPD projects, all of which are in different stages of the process. This means that while I’m working on the conceptual stage of a new product range alongside our marketing team, I’m also working on the scale-up of another product alongside our manufacturing partners, while also implementing EPD tweaks to our core range alongside our food technologist. Our sales team are very proactive and often find exciting new opportunities for me to dive into too. There’s never a dull moment!

Tell us about how you went about applying for your job: In 2016, I was required to complete an internship as part of my undergraduate degree. The healthy eating scene was just gaining momentum at the time, and I was particularly keen to work in a kitchen using all-natural ingredients.

I came across Pollen & Grace on Instagram, which at the time was about 10 months old. I dropped Stephanie (our co-founder) an email, she called me for a quick chat on the phone and we locked in my internship. I spent a month interning with Pollen & Grace before returning to Ireland to complete my degree. I had the best time during the internship and thought the team was particularly special. As soon as I graduated, I reached out to Stephanie again to see if there was a role available, and I’ve been part of Team Pollen & Grace ever since.

pollen and grace ready meal vegan (2)

What’s the best part about working for a food & drink company? Joining an ambitious, female-founded, startup food company means you are always driving forward for growth and development, and surrounded by truly hardworking, passionate foodies.

There have been so many different eras in the Pollen & Grace story so far, and I’ve met some amazing people throughout the journey. Throughout my time here we’ve grown from a small team producing DTC lunches in an army barracks kitchen, to running our own SALSA accredited production facility, and now working with BRC-accredited manufacturers, supplying major retailers across the UK.

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? There are often misconceptions around the NPD process. A lot of people assume it solely requires the ideation stage (which is the most fun part for sure!) but there so much more goes into taking an idea and making it a reality.

Alongside the creative side of the role, there is also a lot of project management. This ensures that all new products meet the expected quality standards, are delivered on time, and are costed within budget. Supplier sourcing and approval, conceptual kitchen-bench iterations, product costing refinement, factory scale-up and production trials are a few of the main priorities involved with managing the overall stage-gate process and critical path of any NPD.

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? If you know you want to work in the industry but are unsure of which role in particular would suit you, I recommend completing as many internships as you can.

This allows you to get a feel for different departments and different-sized companies and understand which area you enjoy the most. Throughout my studies I completed internships in fine dining kitchens, office-based consultancies, and with startup food businesses. Trialling various roles and experiencing different environments teaches you a lot and allows you to discover your true passion.

What’s your ultimate career dream? For me, it’s important to feel fulfilled day-to-day. Working for a company with integrity, on products I believe in, and with a team that support one another, is the key to that fulfilment. I like being part of an ambitious environment and enjoy being challenged.

I’m very excited to see Pollen & Grace reach its full potential and I hope to continue to develop truly great products alongside inspiring people throughout my career.

Interested in finding out more about food & drink careers? Check out GrocerJobs for the latest vacancies