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Essential Cuisine

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Ian Armstrong to head up Innovation and Culinary

17th September 2021

A huge congratulations to Ian Armstrong who is now heading up Innovation and Culinary across Solina UK and Essential Cuisine. Find out about his experience, job role and key objectives in the interview below.

Tell us about your experience in the innovation field?

I have 9 years experience working as an Innovation Development Chef and I am lucky to have worked with brilliant people from around the world who have inspired me, motivated me and shown me different ways of looking at food. With innovation, collaboration is most often where the ‘good stuff’ comes from, and that goes across many disciplines. I am looking forward to harnessing the group talents and creating a joined up approach to innovation.

What do you enjoy about working for Solina group?

Since joining the business last summer, I have enjoyed the family feel that we have within the business. Since day one I have felt like a member of the wider Solina family and have always been supported in my role. When I first joined the company, I lived away from home in Edinburgh for the first 5 months and people were really accommodating and friendly, offering advice on where to eat in the evenings and making sure I was okay. I also believe we have an excellent culture where people are allowed to bring their ideas and experiences to the table.

What does a typical day look like in your new role?

My role is really different from day to day however on a typical day I would check in with the kitchen teams at Essential Cuisine and Solina UK and ask how they are progressing with their workloads and if we have any bottle necks coming up. I then catch up on emails and speak with our innovations team to ask how we are progressing with our innovation projects. After that I will be in the kitchen working on culinary projects that I have to deliver myself, or I may be researching trends or planning food trawls to share with our customers.

Explain some of the key innovation objectives that Solina group are currently working towards?

We have four key themes that we will be focusing in on from an innovation point of view over the coming year.

  • Cuisine trends, to keep our customers at the forefront of what is happening in the global food arena and challenging ourselves to keep up to date with the exciting innovations we see but also thinking differently and brainstorming collectively on how we can overcome the new challenges that we face.
  • Health, we will be embarking on cutting sugar, salt and fat in our products further whilst challenging ourselves to still deliver delicious products.
  • Ingredient optimisation, working with key suppliers to recognise sustainable products that can improve the value of products for customers.
  • Future foods, our dedicated future foods team are working daily on exciting vegan protein substrates and solutions. The products that the team have delivered so far have been exceptional and Solina are really at the forefront of vegan protein development through our UK and European teams. Alongside this, we continue to work on vegan sauces, drizzles and dressings that compliment those products.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently embarking on a redevelopment project for our fresh stock ranges. I am also working with the wider innovation and culinary teams to organise our NPD into a 3 year innovation pipeline.

What changes do you expect to see in the food industry in the next 5 years?

Due to the economic factors COVID has caused, I see a real resurgence in small independent restaurants over the next five years as retail spaces stand empty and rents are lowered to get businesses in. I see this leading to an explosion in 2022 and 23, with some real innovation coming through as these businesses work with the current skills shortage and small dining spaces. This will hopefully lead to exciting fusions of cuisines and new techniques being developed. The continuation of vegan protein development and the further honing of technology to replicate meat will be very exciting to see develop over the coming years.

Where do you see innovation cross overs between B2B and Foodservice?

In my view the two are very closely linked. Our innovation pipeline will support all of our customers by taking those key trends that we identify and then develop into whilst also being mindful of creating solutions which can be adapted correctly for the end user.

Do you have any pets?

Yes, I have a very cute terrier called Busby and two fish, Finn and Lilly.

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