Interview with an Innovator

Waitrose’s Jonathan Moore: ‘I see a trend emerging around the secondary usage of ingredients’

The executive chef for brand development and innovation takes Food Spark through the NPD process at Waitrose.

11 January 2019
chefsfermentedhealthingredientsNPDsupermarketsWaitrose

Moore on Paper - CV

  • Started out in hotel kitchens, before moving into restaurants and garnering a Michelin star at Les Semailles
  • Spent eight years as development innovation chef at Asda
  • Joined Waitrose as executive chef for brand development and innovation in 2011

Every chef has his or her own method to make sense of the food trends madness. Jonathan Moore’s unique approach involves 'dots’ and 'doinks.’ Each trend he sees – be it an ingredient, cuisine, technique or even travel destination – is termed a dot. If it doesn’t connect to another trend, it’s a doink. The beauty, he says, is when several dots link up.

“You start pulling them together, and that’s when it starts to make something,” he explains. “You’ll see lots and lots of dots that don’t actually join up to become anything, and therefore they’re either just a fad or they don’t become anything greater than a dot.”

As an example, Moore points to how items, from cars to food, have become increasingly tailored to individuals. “Personalisation and customisation in the marketplace itself wasn’t necessarily going to change the world, but it was something that certainly was a dot on the horizon that became bigger,” he says. “The dot that made it more relevant was technology.” With the widespread usage of smartphones, for instance, the possibilities of food personalisation suddenly became much more tangible.

“The fun bit is looking for those dots on the horizon,” continues Moore. “The skill is the edit; to go, okay, what are we going to do with this? Otherwise it’s just stuff.”

Since last year, this process of turning trends into solutions has been undertaken by an eight-strong team in Waitrose’s new developments facilities. Unveiled at the HQ in Bracknell, these encompass a kitchen, tasting rooms and a cookery theatre where Moore passes on food knowledge to Waitrose buyers and product developers, as he tells Food Spark.

 

The way we share our findings internally is through our workshops. They are merely us bringing to life our trends. If you can show people something and they can taste it, that’s much, much better than just telling them. Hence this new presentation space as well. We can get all the buyers and all the product developers together – we might get 30 people in a room – and we’ll show them those food trends.

It’s very much about showing the theory, the reasoning, the thinking, then tasting it. We then have that real-time conversation, discussing it. We’ll do the bigger, overarching workshop, then we’ll do the much, much smaller ones to say what that means by category. Then we’ll get the relative suppliers in and show them these things.

At the end of the day, what we’re keen to do is bring everybody on that journey – and that includes the customers. If they don’t get what we’re talking about then it’s just self-indulgent and we’re doing it for no other reason than to play.

I’m interested in restaurants, interested in magazines, interested in where people are travelling, interested in what’s being written in newspapers, but that is just some of the whole stimulus.

You’re not going to go to a restaurant and say, ‘This is an amazing dish, let’s make it in a factory.’ But it’s part of the stimulus that you look at to go, okay, if more and more restaurants are moving away from Pakistani and Bangladeshi to Indian, what does that mean? Is there something happening around contemporary, modern Indian, for example?

In 2017, there was a lot of charring and burning to get bitter notes coming through in food, so that’s something that we picked up on and thought, okay, we need to bear that in mind when we’re creating and doing things. You can’t burn food, because as soon as someone opens a packet and it’s black and burnt, they wouldn’t go, oh, that’s a trend! But you can deliver that slight bitter note in food as a sensation.

We didn’t rush into things like gluten-free because we were not convinced that the food that was being developed was to the standard that we wanted it to be. We had to really, really work hard to find suppliers to work with us to deliver it to that Waitrose standard that we work to.

I think when you look at most of the Michelin two-star chefs now cooking in this country, their food is much lighter and cleaner. It’s almost become more simple. It’s almost more what they don’t put on the plate than what they do put on the plate. It’s incredibly technique driven, but it might be just four components.

In our industry, chefs are good at adding and adding and adding, and you get to a point where actually you get diminishing returns. You’re adding cost but the customer doesn’t see the benefit. That’s why using pickling or fermenting in a dish, the customer gets it, because you’re not doing it for the sake of adding cost, you’re doing it because actually the piquancy you can get from putting something pickled in that dish complements the overall taste.

Over the last 18 months, you’ve seen a lot of retro stuff around fermenting and smoking –and just preservation generally.

The Middle East is quite interesting. You’ve almost got that perfect storm. The Middle East is opening up a bit more to travel – EasyJet are flying there now. Then you’ve got the whole amazing food that Ottolenghi does.

Just today, I’ve had people contact me about truffles, the next generation of seaweed, the next generation of sea salt. I’m an open book, I want to talk to as many people as I can talk to because you have to be relevant and involved and talking to these people. My remit is very much own label, but I will always give people from these branded businesses time, because Waitrose as a retailer is constantly about engaging people at the right time.

Retail is so much like fashion, in the sense that it’s moving at such a pace now that if you stand still you’re going to be irrelevant.

We’ve got a customer base that has a higher propensity than normal to cook for themselves. So they do want ingredients, but it has to be very quality driven.

I see a trend emerging around the secondary usage of stuff. So if you’re going to have, for example, zhoug, you can demystify it. As well as using it as a dip, you can also rub it into your chicken for your Sunday roast and marinade it, and it’ll give the chicken an amazing flavour. You might want to put Middle Eastern dukkah over the top and sprinkle it. So it’s kind of helping the customer to get to a meal solution that’s more than just buying some zhoug; it’s a dip, but you can also use it as a marinade, or you can drizzle it over a pork chop… You don’t want to buy a jar, take some of it, put it in your cupboard, and when you open it six months later you go, ‘oh, that’s still there!’ So how can we help customers? By imparting knowledge to go with everything. Calamansi lime juice is brilliant for marinating, but you can make it into jelly if you wanted.

We’ve got lots of routes to market, whether that’s through our magazine, or our paper handouts that we give in branch, or through the website, or we’ve got a cookery channel online.

I think trends in the broadest sense, you’re going to see further development around health, personalised health. I think you’re going to continue to see salt, fat, sugar – not in that it’s a bad thing, but I think you’ll see people move more and more into ‘this tastes great and it’s incidentally  not got a lot of salt, fat, sugar.’

Gut health is an interesting thing that we’re constantly talking about. Will we develop ranges that are overtly to do with gut health? We might do it through ingredients. It never ceases to amaze me the way that turmeric in 2017 just took off. We’ve always sold turmeric, but now we sell it fresh.

I constantly think about the next 10 years and how a retailer is going to become much more that centre of the community and a place to go. People call it ‘retailtainment,’ but it’s more a hub of not selling you anything, it’s about you just sharing experiences.

When you look at a Keralan chicken coconut dish, you might want yours with more chilli in and I want mine with more curry leaves in. How do we satisfy both customers? That’s something that’s constantly on my mind. How do we get to that stage? The third or fourth version of personalisation? At the moment, it’s been very much ‘you can drizzle this on if you want or leave it off.’ Those are your two choices.

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