Kirsty Ritchie: It’s not a piece of cake – but hard work is rewarded in food industry

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The food and drink industry is a fun place to build your career and if you work hard you can progress very quickly.

It is important to recognise the young talented people who are ­working in food and drink and ­contributing to the future success of the industry. FDF Scotland sponsors the Young Talent Award at Scotland Food & Drink’s Excellence Awards and I was lucky enough to help ­interview the three finalists.

First up was Lauren Leisk, who is the founder and CEO of Fodilicious Limited, based in Livingston. Lauren suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for many years and found it difficult to find food that was convenient, tasty and suitable for her dietary requirements. She set up Fodilicious to develop new products for the low FODMAP (IBS friendly), gluten free and dairy free market.

From the age of 16 Lauren worked in the hospitality industry, starting as a waitress and working her way up to become the youngest general manager in Scotland for a well-known ­restaurant chain. She continued to work full time in this role while studying for a business management degree at Queen Margaret University.

It is important for Lauren to create employment opportunities for her local community and to contribute towards Scotland’s reputation for high quality produce. Her passion is to “help others who suffer from IBS to live a healthier, better quality lifestyle through effectively managing their diet”.

Next, we interviewed Finlay James Macdonald. Finlay is founder and director of Chocolates of Glenshiel, based in the Highlands. As a young entrepreneur, he learnt how to make bread and chocolate and sold them at school. He decided in his sixth year of high school that he would like to take his chocolate making “a bit more seriously and turn it into a career”. Straight out of school he set up his own business. As with any business set up there were challenges – ­Finlay couldn’t set up a business bank account until he was 18.

What makes his chocolates stand out are the local ingredients he uses such as whisky and gin from distilleries nearby, to locally roasted ­coffee and even sea salt harvested on the Isle of Skye. He is now working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to ­prepare for expansion into international markets. Finlay has done all of this without any formal training.

Lastly, we spoke to Kirsty George, general manager at Luss Smokehouse, established in 2015 on the banks of Loch Lomond. Since leaving university Kirsty has had varied experience from working at Stockan’s Oatcakes to Scotland Food & Drink.

Kirsty manages all aspects of the business’s operations, whilst seeking out new opportunities. When asked what her greatest challenge had been, she said there was “no hand holding, no guidebook, just being thrown completely in the deep end to figure it all out”. Her hard work has paid off. Since she started in 2016, the company’s turnover has quadrupled and the team has increased from four to nine members of staff (six are under 25).

Kirsty wants to help change the image of the fish and seafood industry in Scotland. She said recognising a young “fishwife” would give a ­fantastic profile for the industry – highlighting that it’s not all “old fishermen in yellow galoshes!”

After the interviews, I caught up with the three finalists to ask: “What would you say to someone considering a career in food and drink?”

The main theme was how varied the opportunities are. Lauren said “the sector is incredibly diverse, from leading innovation, taking part in efficient food production, and driving sales in this industry”, while Finlay commented “there are so many roles within the food and drink industry so you are bound to find something you enjoy” and Kirsty went on to say : “Working in the food and drink industry isn’t just about chefs and foodies, there is a whole spectrum of jobs and opportunities across tech, engineering, science and creative disciplines to suit your skills and interests.”

Lauren, Finlay and Kirsty are all excellent role models for those considering a food and drink career. The judges found it difficult to pick just one for the Young Talent Award but Kirsty George was announced as the winner at the Excellence Awards on 7 June.

The food and drink industry is thriving but we need more new talented recruits to continue this success. If you want to help us inspire the next generation to consider a career in the industry – get in touch.

Kirsty Ritchie, communications executive, Food and Drink Federation Scotland.