In our third blog celebrating Scotland’s young talent working in food and drink, we speak to 26-year-old IIona Mclaren, Event Manager at Scotland Food & Drink. Food Standards Scotland works closely with industry bodies and organisations such as Scotland Food & Drink to support Scotland’s food and drink environment.
Helping responsible food businesses do well is a key priority for us, something which is closely tied to IIona’s work when organising events, reaching industry stakeholders.
For those who don’t know, tell us about Scotland Food & Drink?
We’re an industry-led organisation aiming to drive responsible growth for the sector, and build Scotland’s global reputation for food and drink. We’re supported by the Scottish Government and challenged to work across the whole sector.
Our long-term vision is to fill around 27,000 jobs by 2022 to ensure farming, fishing and food and drink continues to grow. Our goal is to double the value of the industry to £30 billion by 2030.
With more than 440 members in our Scotland Food & Drink Partnership we also lead a collaborative working group of the key industry organisations and public sector agencies working in Scotland.
What’s involved in your role as an Events Manager?
Events are an integral part of our activity throughout the year, from large-scale events like our annual conference and Excellence Awards, to the regular dinners and supplier showcase events held across Scotland.
From liaising with venues to managing registrations and dealing with unexpected special requests, organising events can become quite the task and it always takes up more time than you think. Planning starts early to allow plenty of time to prepare, especially for the big events – prep is already well underway for the Excellence Awards which are held next May.
What does a typical day in your working life look like?
Although no two days are ever the same, I generally start off by checking my emails and reviewing any event registrations which have come in overnight. My stomach usually starts to rumble at this point, so I’ll then make a healthy breakfast of porridge with cinnamon and raisins to set me up for the day.
My priorities typically depend on what event we have coming up next, and involve planning meetings with the rest of the events team and dealing with industry stakeholders such as Food Standards Scotland, who are often involved as sponsors and judges for awards.
Deciding the menu for an event can be one of the most time-consuming elements as we need to ensure the produce being offered is reflective of the industry and our members. Often the default choice for starters and fish courses is smoked salmon, but there’s a whole range of Scottish seafood that we want to showcase so sometimes it can be a bit of an education.
What advice would you give to other young people looking to do something similar?
Whatever industry you want to work in, pick a role that you enjoy and have a passion for. In my case, I followed the smell of food and have found that the mix of events and food and drink is ideal for me.
My whole family is involved in the food and drink industry in one way or another. I have an auntie who makes ice cream, another who makes cheese and my dad and my brother run our family farm in Crieff, so it seemed natural for me to pursue a career in the sector.
What does the Year of Young People mean to you?
Young people are the future, and getting them involved and engaged as early as possible helps attract them to a career in food and drink.
This year, our Food & Drink Fortnight was all about young producers and we’ve been offering free passes for young people to access a range of our events, giving them an opportunity to learn while also widening our audience.
The stories that have been shared as part of the Year of Young People celebrations have been really inspiring and interesting. There’s many opportunities out there for young people that we perhaps don’t realise.
Tell us an interesting fact about you
I’m a regular festival goer and almost enjoy the food on offer at the festivals as much as the music itself.
One of my favourite food festivals is the Big Feed in Glasgow that’s held every fortnight in Govan, it has some of the best street food around. Glastonbury is next on my wish list and fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get tickets – both for the food and the music.