The M&S taste

The M&S Pea & Wasabi Dip
-is that a combo? Apparently it is…

So we all know peas -some of us like them other really hate them- and many of us will have heard of wasabi, a spicy green Japanese paste that includes horseradish.



Ingredients

Wasabi and peas already sounds like a weird combo to me but when looking at the list of ingredients, I am very surprised to see 3% mint infused sunflower oil. MINT, really?!

What peas, wasabi and mint have in common is the green colour -and that is where it ends!

I’m definitely curious -if not frightened to try this dip…



Taste

As a German I’ve got to have it with bread, don’t I?
I’m ready for a spicy twist.
Only, there is none. Instead, the dip has avery minty flavour.

I love greens and I love all the ingredients but I definitely don’t like them mixed as a dip.

The lemon juice certainly adds a bit of freshness but maybe that actually makes it worse…



Rating

The dip isn’t disgusting and I actually finish the whole pot but it’s definitely weird. Maybe for mint lovers.

2 out of 5 stars

The M&S Hot & Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup
-more than a winter warmer

Winter is that time of the year when soups get very popular. I love to boil, cook and blend veggies to create new soup flavours and get rid of left-overs.



The benefits of soups -and the effort you need to make

Winter is also the cold and flu season. My family swears by a certain beef stock soup to fight several health issues (including hangovers).

My flatmate just spent two days of cooking his own homemade chicken soup. It was nice but I don’t want to make the effort and I think a whole chicken looks a bit weird in boiling vegetable stock…



Trying the M&S Chicken Noodle Soup

The M&S Chicken Noodle Soup is a convenient alternative. I love the fact that it is free from nasty stuff and that it has loads of chunks. Its main ingredient is water but it felt like there was enough chicken and carrots.

There is one thing I didn’t like too much though:

The taste of the chicken.

To be fair, I never really like the saturated chicken in soups. Also, it’s not the first time that I struggle with the taste of M&S chicken.

Finally, I’m not sure about labeling it as “spicy”. For sure, you can taste several spices and it is kind of hearty but a spice soup is a different thing to me.



Rating

A chicken (soup) lover might rate different but for me this is it:

2+ out of 5 stars.

Are you ready to party???
-jump on the M&S Party bus

The Marks and Spencer party bus is filled with sweet passengers. The shortbread collection is indeed very sweet, especially those with the triple chocolate bits. It goes down really smooth with milk, coffee or tea.



Yes, it does taste amazing.



Furthermore, the design is quite cute. Not only is the red double decker famous for London and therefore always a bestseller design, Marks and Spencer pays attention to detail: it’s most exclusive "Invite only" and also the final destination is "Paddington Basin" where the M&S head office is based.

I’m still trying to figure out what the numbers 159 and 129 (number plate) stand for…

This “party bus” is amazing as a gift -I actually used it as a Christmas gift for my parents and the tin can be reused for several purposes.



5 out of 5 stars

Fabulous.

Which is your favourite advent (calendar) treat?
M&S is counting the days

When you’re a kid, advent calendar are just great: The make the time until Christmas shorter and you get an extra treat every day.
When I was a kid, I sometimes had several advent calendar: one homemade from my Mum (she’s incredibly good at art and crafts and being creative), probably a chocolate one from the supermarkets from Dad and at least one from my grandparents.
With time, I realized that those homemade ones are the best. Their are made with love.
However, sometimes I have a weird crave for the supermarket ones as they seem to have a special (cheap) chocolate.



Where’s Wally Colin?! 
I was really close to buy a Marks And Spencer advent calendar this year but then I realized that there was no Colin the Caterpillar advent calendar!!!



Percy Pig
Of course, Percy got his calendar. To be fair the design is quite nice but who are those little pigs? Anyway, Percy is famous to be that pink soft gum not for his chocolate products -in contrast to his best friend Colin.



Hello Kitty
Hello?!? I know "Hello Kitty" is popular. I don’t like it. My association is a fluffy pink kitty. Now why should M&S have a red advent calendar of a brand that isn’t its own. Lately, I have seen "Monsters Inc." characters and there is the"Where’s Wally" -both way cooler than "Hello Kitty"- on the shelves which I don’t really appreciate. I believe Colin and Percy are great and able to sell enough or rather I would love M&S to be able to be strong enough to avoid selling other brands/names.



Santa and his reindeer
In contrast, Santa and his reindeer are global Christmas characters and more than welcome on the shelves. I specifically like the double function of the reindeer calendar and its 3D look.



Where’s Wally?
Wally’s wonderful. I love that game. It’s great to practice focussing and mindfulness. Certainly, I had to find Wally and I did. As usual, it wasn’t too easy. Can you find him?



Colin’s Christmas
Recently, I brought Collin to a 20th birthday party and what shall I say, he was the star -right behind the birthday girl obviously.
Seeing his Christmas make over makes me happy as he finally gets some attention again and I love the little hat:

Colin goes Christmas!

The M&S Chicken & Fries
-a great snack for kids everyone

The first thing that catches my eye is the different packaging: a nice little paper box with green elements and some cartoony graphics. The dish is meant to be a kids menu.
Well, I’m not exactly a kid anymore but I can be a big kid and who doesn’t like chicken nuggets and chips as a snack every now and then?!



Portion size

For sure, it looks like a tiny (kids’) portion (215g) but that is exactly what I need for dinner after having a good lunch.



Ingredients
The best bit about kids menus is that the ingredients are usually of high quality -at least they are meant to be. Indeed, the list looks like nasty additives, preservatives, flavourings and sweeteners are left out.
Surprisingly, the chips contain dextrose. For me being fructose intolerant that is good news as dextrose helps me to deal with fructose which I will get big time from ketchup and mayo.
However, bear in mind that dextrose goes fast into the blood and then the sugar boost decreases fast.



Preparation
I am very happy to see that the recommended preparation method is to bake it in the oven as it keeps the best nutritions of the product alive and gives the chips a nice golden colour and a crispy taste.



Taste
Both, the chicken and the chips taste really nice and far less greasy than the chicken and chips from the shop around the corner (and it’s most likely still less expensive). The chicken also tastes better than most of the chicken pieces I have tried so far from Marks and Spencer.



The special extra
It’s great to see that M&S kids menus support the Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity and local farmers as the chicken comes from Great Britain.
The only little downside is the caption “low in salt” as the ‘equivalent to salt’ (what is that btw?!?) is 25g and the GDA for children is only 20g! However, I would imagine that alternative products might contain far more salt.



The final rating

4+ out of 5 stars
-what a fantastic snack (every now and then)

The M&S DELI Moroccan Style Lamb Pastries with onion rings
-snack away 

The M&S DELI range was invented in line with the Deli Counters in stores. Both are designed to bring international flavours to M&S customers.

Even though I don’t really like lamb (besides quality lamb from New Zealand), I thought I give the Moroccan style lamb pastries a go. As I also had some onion rings, I combined both to create a great snack.
I grilled everything in the oven (instead of microwaving it). 

The lamb pastries were really tasty. A nice but not too dominant meat flavour completed with authentic spices.

On the contrary, the onion rings needed a bit of an additional dip. Thus, I added some M&S low fat soy, chilli and coriander dressing.

Great snack -also great as finger food on parties!
Just slightly (too) greasy.. 

4 out of 5 stars

Nathan Ansell - Head of Brand and Marketing for M&S Food
-the interview part II: the cheeky bits


On my blog I have several posts about my favourite M&S character “Colin the Caterpiller“, now Percy Pig just got a lot attention for his 21st birthday. Will Collin get some attention soon?

Well, it was a big birthday for Percy, so we gave him a lot of attention. However, since Colin is a good friend of Percy, he was always there to celebrate. At the moment there is no such a special event for Colin planned but I’m sure he will get his chance to shine sometime in the future.



While working for Red Bull, you spend quite some time in Germany, what are your impressions of the German cuisine?

I don‘t know if I have tried the best of Germany as I actually only had cream spinach, potatoes and fish sticks. So, I‘m not sure if I saw the best from the German cuisine. However, I tell you something I like about the German food offering which is the variety of products for lactose and gluten intolerant customers. I think you deal with food allergies much much better. I think there is a much greater awareness.



M&S is currently expanding in France - Are there more branches on the European main land planned?

Our store in Paris is a phenomenal success actually. We are really really pleased with that success: Every day people are queueing for knickers and our croissants. They are doing pretty well. We are definitely looking to make up more stores on the continent. Probably stores that are a bit closer to the UK at the moment. But we are definitely looking as the demand has been fantastic.



In Germany, there is a current debate on whether there should be a veggi day at office cafeterias - what do you think about that?

I definitely think that the idea of having a meat-free Monday is a really good one. We do talk a lot about the consuption of meat. You know a billion of people will go to bed tonight starving while we sometimes go to bed on a big meat meal. So we definitely want to encourage people to maybe have one day per week to have a bit less meat or don‘t eat meat at all. I don‘t think we ever stop selling meat in general of to tell them off but we might encourage them and we always make sure that we have got plenty of vegetarian options.



Can you give us a little sneak preview on the next M&S food events/campaigns?

Coming up in Autumn, we will talk about getting cosy when it‘s getting cold at night. We will also have the 10th anniversary of Gastro Pub this year so we will launch fantastic traditional dishes. We also want to put a focus on the high quality warming types of food. So, it‘s going to be a really awesome period.



Which M&S dish can you recommend me to try next?

Well, the nex thing you should try is the limited edition Gastro Pub range which will come out in a few weeks time.

I have always been hesitating to try the Gastro Pub Scotch Eggs because that is something very … British.

Have you not tried them? Then try that -it‘s amazing!



Find the first part of the interview here.

Nathan Ansell - Head of Brand and Marketing for M&S Food
-the interview part I: the serious bits


What is your favourite M&S product? 

Well, I guess it would have to be the Gastro Pub Lamb Shanks.


What is a ‘Great British Summer’ to you?

For me the absolute perfect 'Great British Summer' is friends and family in the garden, BBQ and British Ales.


Tell us a bit about the ‘Make Today Delicious’ campaign.

The point about 'Make today delicious' is we have this believe that any occasion can be better with really really great food. It doesn‘t really matter whether you are having a mid-week bite to eat with a partner or whether you are having a pick-nick with loads of friends. It doesn‘t even matter if it‘s raining outside - as long as you have fantastic food, you can have a good time and have a really good occasion. That‘s the thinking of that campaign.


I‘ve been trying out your ready meals although I don‘t very much like ready meals and I was very surprised how tasty they are. How do you make them so delicious?

Instead of using a smoked flavour in our Gastro Pub smoked duck for example, we use real smoked duck meat and our woodfired pizzas are actually made in a proper woodfire oven. Also, for our paella dishes, we use proper kitchen pans. That‘s why it tastes like it made self or restaurant cooked and it basically also contains the same ingredients.


In my M&S ‘travel guide‘ I talk about the ‘special ingredient’ M&S always uses -like free range eggs, rapseed oil, halloumi cheese, Chinese chive flower- where do you get the inspiration from?

We spend an enormous amount of time on travelling all around the world, eating in the most amazing restaurants, meeting fantastic chefs and also talking to several people for a better understanding of different tastes and specialities to make sure we always use proper ingredients and make dishes the traditional way. It takes huge amounts -not just desk research but basic research where we go out to all different parts of the world to understand what it really takes to replicate a dish. We‘re not cutting corners but using those real traditional ingredients.

Find the (cheeky) second part of the interview here.

Nathan Ansell - Head of Brand and Marketing for M&S FoodMeet the expert

Nathan is currently Head of Brand and Marketing for M&S Food. Nathan joined the team in November 2011 as Head of Brand and was promoted into his current role in September 2012.  Prior to moving to M&S he was European Marketing Manager at Birds Eye iglo Group (BEiG), the market leading frozen foods business in Europe.  Nathan previously held a number of marketing roles at Heinz, quickly rising through the ranks to run Heinz Beanz - a top ten UK grocery brand worth £200 million RSV. He was credited with leading the company’s biggest ever brand investment, launching Heinz Snap Pots, which clocked up sales of over £20m in the first year.
 Nathan had his first taste of consumer marketing at Red Bull, first whilst at University and then continuing to work for Red Bull as a Regional Brand Manager. Nathan holds a first class (hons) degree in Neurological Psychology from UWS.
Find the first part of the interview with Mr Ansell here.

Nathan Ansell - Head of Brand and Marketing for M&S Food
Meet the expert


Nathan is currently Head of Brand and Marketing for M&S Food. Nathan joined the team in November 2011 as Head of Brand and was promoted into his current role in September 2012. 

Prior to moving to M&S he was European Marketing Manager at Birds Eye
iglo Group (BEiG), the market leading frozen foods business in Europe. 
Nathan previously held a number of marketing roles at Heinz, quickly rising through the ranks to run Heinz
Beanz - a top ten UK grocery brand worth £200 million RSV. He was credited with leading the company’s biggest ever brand investment, launching Heinz Snap Pots, which clocked up sales of over £20m in the first year.


Nathan had his first taste of consumer marketing at Red Bull, first whilst at University and then continuing to work for Red Bull as a Regional Brand Manager. Nathan holds a first class (
hons) degree in Neurological Psychology from UWS.

Find the first part of the interview with Mr Ansell here.