Word of mouth: Sybil Kapoor meets the woman responsible for ceps in the supermarket

Remember the days when you could buy a ready-to-bake pizza in a plastic dog bowl? "Huge fat dollops of bread brushed with a ton of tomato paste and covered in cling-film" is how Brigette Hardy, product innovations manager for Sainsbury's, describes them.

She cut her teeth on them as the company's buyer of pizzas and pork pies. An unlikely start for someone who has successfully introduced everything from tamarind paste to Charbonnel & Walker chocolate drink to the stores. "I was dispatched to the factory to design a new pizza. I had them sauteing fresh mushrooms, experimenting with new doughs, trying to create a recipe that was closer to a real Neapolitan pizza. It was fantastic, knowing that people were actually eating what I had designed."

Brigette Hardy is bursting with ideas, even if she's not very fond of pork pies. "I like to get my hands dirty, too much of being a buyer is sitting behind a desk, moving stock from depot to store and acting as a commodity broker. It is an amazing feeling, knowing you can change what goes into a pork pie, reducing the jelly, making better pastry." She switched to product development, where she was eventually commissioned by Bob Cooper, trading director of Sainsbury's, to set up its Special Selection. This began as a small group of "gourmet foods" - Cipriani pasta, dried ceps and such like.

Two years ago, she was given free reign to rampage across departments and challenge their preconceptions of their products. As she says: "How can they judge a Cajun ready-made meal if they have never eaten in New Orleans?" She immediately organised what she calls Search and Reapply trips, where she whisks up to 20 buyers and development chefs off on a whistle-stop tour of Italy, America or Australia and the Far East. These are not for the faint-hearted. Mike du Sautoy, category manager for ice cream and desserts, has experienced the Hardy phenomenon at first hand. "She organises everything. We visited 100 supermarkets and 30 restaurants in 12 days on our last trip to the States. Food is Brigette's passion and work is her play. She's so enthusiastic she could probably sell lawn mowers in winter if she wanted."

As part of a trip, Brigette ensures they visit about three restaurants a night for dinner. Notes are taken by a development chef, while photographs are discreetly snapped. "I will smuggle out a pudding in my handbag and photograph it on the pavement if I think that the restaurant is going to be upset," she remarks. "I just love the fact that I can buy olive oil with oranges from Alice Waters in San Francisco and laksa paste from Singapore, and sell it to millions of people. What was rare in Fortnum's 15 years ago is now commonplace." With the push of a computer button, she can see what is selling where and quickly respond. So if you like the idea of buying banana flowers at Sainsbury's, you'd better get out there and buy them Sainsbury's extended Special Selection will be introduced into a number of stores on 7 September.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power