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What's it like to eat sandwiches for a living? We asked an expert to find out...

As part of our odd jobs series, Ian Mullin told us what it’s like to work as head of innovation for Freshways Food Co.

THERE ARE FEW people that wouldn’t jump at the chance to spend their days tasting sandwiches.

While that certainly isn’t all that Ian Mullin does, it is one of the perks of his job as head of innovation for Freshways Food Co, the largest supplier of hand-made sandwiches in Ireland.

His job is to create new products for markets vary from supermarket ranges to elite hotels and airlines.

“I have always been involved in food. Food has always been something I loved and I have worked in,” he told TheJournal.ie.

Getting into the industry

Working in restaurants from the age of 14, two weeks in the kitchen of one in Malahide brought him to the realisation that the regimented nature of chef work was not for him.

Taking a shift in direction, Mullin started to work with cocktails in bars around Dublin, including a stint in the Clarance Hotel as the penthouse’s private bartender.

While this afforded him the opportunity to design cocktails from scratch and put menus together, it came with a lifestyle that was difficult to maintain.

carrot and coriander fallafal Carrot and coriander falafel Source: Freshways

“The bar industry started to take its toll on me,” Mullin explains, “I spent too much time on the other side of the bar. Then I saw a job come up.”

They were looking for a smoothie architect, as they called it. For Zumo juice bar at the time, they were looking for someone to create, as I saw it, non-alcoholic cocktails, healthy smoothies.

The creative work that Mullin had done designing cocktails and later smoothies allowed him to get a job first with Nature’s Best, a Droghada-based company that produces most of the bagged salads sold in Ireland, and later his current position with Freshways.

chicken and bacon Chicken and bacon Source: Freshways

Day to day, the job can vary to great deal.

As Mullin explains, work generally starts at around 8am in the company’s kitchen.

We could be working on bacon for example. We could have 20 or 30 types of bacon that we need to review, taste, test. See if they are up to standard for what we want to use in our sandwich.

As the head of development, he has two chefs working with him to get the best idea about what is available in the market and what steps have to be made to develop their own product.

One key tip Mullin has for someone thinking of getting into the industry: 

I learnt very early on when I got into product development that you don’t swallow everything. If you swallowed everything throughout the day you’d be the size of a house.

Once a decision has been made on the intricacies of a particular product, it goes over to another section of the company to figure out how to translate what is produced in the kitchen to what is produced in the factory.

The final taste-testing is carried out on a product that comes directly off the shelf.

ceasar salad Chicken Caesar salad Source: Freshways

It can be a lengthy process from an idea being conceived to it making to the shop floor.

Mullin is currently working on projects that have been under development for four years.

“If a customer came to me tomorrow and said, I need a new product and I need it within a week, we’d make it happen,” he explains.

But to do something right, to do something new, it can take a bit of time. I mean it is OK to create a variant of a salad or a sandwich and to do that quite quickly because you know where it will be in the market.

The team he is in charge of is currently working on approximately 400 products across 37 projects.

ham and relish on spelt and honey bread Ham and relish on spelt and honey bread Source: Freshways

Odd Job: Product development (sandwiches)

What does it pay? €40,000 as a starter salary and up to as much as €150,000 later on.

How many are there? Approximately between 200 and 300 in Ireland.

What qualifications/experience do you need? Not specific qualification but extensive experience in food and drink development.

Do you know someone with an unusual occupation for our Odd Jobs series? Email the author below.

READ: The world has been losing its thirst for Irish beer >

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