My name is Jo and I am the Flower Technologist for Marks & Spencer. I have been extremely lucky in my career path, as my two passions are food and flowers. Whilst at college I studied for a degree in Home Economics and like many of us, I really didn’t know where that would take me.
All I did know was that it had to be food related. I was fortunate to have a student summer job in my local Marks & Spencer store. I liked the ethics of the company and how they relentlessly worked to maintain high standards of quality. After a conversation with the HR Manager, who suggested I send my CV, my application was successful and I landed a job at their head office, where I am still based today.
Marks & Spencer gives you the opportunity to work in different product areas, so I spent the first half of my career working in different areas of the food industry. Perhaps it was fate, but an opportunity came about to work with my other passion, namely flowers, and I haven’t looked back.
My job involves maintaining quality standards, it doesn’t matter what product it is. All products have an agreed specification with our suppliers. We know exactly where everything comes from, right back to our growers from whom our suppliers buy directly. At this time of year, I spend a lot of time with the suppliers checking bouquets in their pack houses based in Lincolnshire. The flower industry has a number of busy periods, we’ll have only just finished Christmas when round the corner comes Valentine’s, followed very quickly by Mother’s Day. I ensure the flowers are of the right quality, the flower heads are the right maturity, stem length is correct, and that they are free from any disease which could affect the vase life. This is really important across the board, as we take as much care about a small bunch of roses as our top tier Autograph range.
The other facet of my job is innovation, as this is the life blood of Marks & Spencer. This has taken me all over the world to countries such as New Zealand, Kenya and Japan. I visited New Zealand over 10 years ago and found the deep black calla lily, and as a result we were the first to market this plant in the UK. Equally my trips to China and Japan were to look for new orchid varieties, and again we were the first to market on the High Street. We are now one of the market leaders in orchids. My visits to Kenya are in respect of sourcing our roses.
I travel with our suppliers and growers to visit nurseries or breeders as we are constantly looking to develop new varieties and colours. Sometimes this work can take anything up to 8/10 years, so patience is definitely a virtue. I not only look at the beauty of the flower, but also whether it grows well and we always compare and test the new flowers against ones that we already sell. I suppose I am a bit like “the man from Del Monte”, but I don’t always say yes!
I visit trial greenhouses and assess hundreds of new seedlings. Once we have selected the ones we like, we then have to grow them in production to ensure they will perform. Many new varieties may fall by the wayside because they may look beautiful, but if they don’t meet the right quality standards or don’t grow well, we don’t progress.
As Valentine’s is just around the corner I am eating and sleeping red roses. Our suppliers pack a staggering 24.5 million stems of red roses just for us, either in store or to be ordered online.
While I put my feet up on February 14th for a short respite (!), I hope that you’ll enjoy our beautiful flowers.
Our flowers are available in store or online http://www.marksandspencer.com/c/flowers-and-gifts