Career profile - Product Developer, Production

From edible flowers to electric blue hydrangeas, a seemingly continuous stream of exciting new products is launched every year by the horticulture industry. This ever-changing range of delights is thanks to the ingenuity of product developers, whose innovations please consumers and propel their businesses into the future.

What is best about being a product developer for a grower business?

"The best thing about being a product developer for a grower business is exploring the beauty and extremity of plants and being able to share that wonder with appreciative customers," says Steph Dunn James from Worcestershire-based fruit and ornamental tree nursery Frank P Matthews. She also cites working with passionate and knowledgeable breeders as another rewarding part of the job, as well as enabling these breeders to see their hard work come to fruition. Dunn James adds: "Customers often want to know what’s new and being able to satisfy this question with something exciting and desirable is hugely satisfying."

What skills, attributes, knowledge and experience are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment — and why?

Commercial and horticultural knowledge

Paul Faulkner, commercial manager for West Sussex-based tomato grower Eric Wall, notes that a product developer for a grower business should have a clear understanding of the market in which they are operating. "I also think it’s important that candidates have a good understanding of, or are keen to understand, both the operational and growing aspect of the business they are in. You cannot sell the product if you don’t understand production and operations and, from an NPD [new product development] perspective, you need to understand any limitations of NPD and what the capital requirement would be to overcome these versus the return on investment." Dunn James maintains that product developers need to be conscious of what customers are looking for and that knowing their market enables new releases to be a success.

Patience

In some cases, it takes many years before a new product can be launched onto the market. With this in mind, Dunn James notes that the role of product developer may require patience. "The tree production cycle [for example] is long in comparison to many plants in horticulture so patience is essential as it may take a few to over 10 years to evaluate varieties thoroughly," she adds.

Perseverance

Dunn James says perseverance with some varieties is sometimes useful because, as growers well know, there can be propagation and production challenges when you are working with plants.

What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?

Candidates would need to have proven customer-facing experience in addition to an understanding of production and operations. "If a new variety is introduced but it needs new machinery to pack or harvest it, what is the operational impact?" asks Faulkner. Dunn James points out that she would like candidates to possess demonstrably good horticultural knowledge in addition to a willingness to learn. "An appetite to find ‘the next best thing’, persistence and patience are all key," she adds.

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from any other horticulture roles?

Potentially, according to Dunn James. "Ultimately, being a product developer is about identifying gaps in the market and finding a suitable tree or product to fill that gap, so a keen eye for detail and a breadth of horticultural knowledge would enable the candidate to do this role well," she explains. "These skills can be transferred from other areas in horticulture as long as there is a strong awareness of the marketplace."


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