The Leeds woman who has developed new M&S sprout dish for Christmas

It has been a staple on her Christmas dinner plate for years but it’s fair to say that Bethany Jacobs hasn’t been the biggest fan of the humble sprout. “Growing up, Christmas Day, mum would put the sprouts on at like 8am and they would sit there half the day getting a bit soggy, a little khaki coloured and not very pleasant,” she laughs.

"But we’d always have them. They were a must have on a Christmas dinner plate, it was kind of a tickbox to have them. I never liked them.”

Now a product developer for Marks and Spencer, Bethany has been working to on a sprout dish which launched in stores earlier this week. The cheesy gratin, she says, has converted her from hater to lover of Brussels sprouts and she hopes it will change the minds of many others across the nation too.

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“We were looking at recipes and trends in the market and there was a lot more gratins,” says Bethany, from Leeds. "Products like cauliflower cheese and dauphinoise potatoes sell well and customers find them familiar and delicious.

Product developer Bethany Jacobs with her mum Judi in an M&S store.Product developer Bethany Jacobs with her mum Judi in an M&S store.
Product developer Bethany Jacobs with her mum Judi in an M&S store.

"We thought what can we do with sprouts to make them so delicious so that everyone who hates sprouts will absolutely love this dish? The nostalgia of eating really soggy, overboiled sprouts can be so unpleasant and this was about transforming the humble sprout.”

Developing the recipe during the Covid-19 pandemic, Bethany roped in friends and family to be taste testers for the gratin. It is one of many products she has worked on during her five years with M&S, where her focus has been on vegetable sides and the retailer’s ready meals.

Bethany’s first taste of product developing came during her schooling years in Leeds. She studied food technology at GCSE.

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"I didn’t really know at the time whether that could lead to a career in food,” she says. “I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do.”

A M&S product developer was invited into the school to give a talk. That was the catalyst for Bethany, who went on to study food technology at A-Level and food science and nutrition at university in Northumbria.

During that period, she had placements with bakery chain Greggs and after spending 18 months with a small food brand in London, she secured a place on the food development graduate scheme at M&S.

When she’s not working in the kitchen with chefs to develop new recipes, her job sees her trawling the market for inspiration, upscaling new recipes to be mass-produced at a factory level, creating product packaging and working with the PR and marketing team to sell the company’s creations.

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“For me, Christmastime is a time when you want to be with family, celebrating, with friends, enjoying yourself and taking the hassle out of cooking,” she says.

“It’s the most magical feeling in the world [seeing your products on the shelf]. You spend so long working on them.”

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