Meet Hilary Hursh, Finlays Director of Applications, a seasoned professional bringing over two decades of expertise in the dynamic food and beverage industry. In our latest Meet the Expert feature, Hilary shares her insight into the evolving product development landscape.
- Hello Hilary! Thanks for joining us. Please tell us about your role. Can you describe your typical day?
As the Director of Applications for the Finlays Extracts business, I oversee a team of scientists and technicians across five sites, my typical day begins on-site at my home base in Lincoln, Rhode Island, or at our other offices in Rhode Island and San Antonio, Texas. While I primarily focus on internal project discussions and customer meetings, my favorite time of the day is the hand-on lab time. I love getting to put on my lab coat and taste products with the team—from ongoing projects to raw material evaluations and exploring competitive market products—it never gets old!
- You’ve been at Finlays for 11 years, what has been most surprising for you?
In my 11 years at Finlays, the most surprising aspect has been how the business constantly evolves and grows. Even though I’ve been here for over a decade, it certainly does not feel that way! We are constantly refreshing our focus to align with market dynamics and shifting industry trends, creating an environment of continuous adaptation and progression.
- What is one thing you wish people knew about your role?
I wear lots of hats (and so does my team)! The Applications team spearheads new product development across Finlays’ US sites and Hull, but also engages in product research, provides technical support to customers, seeks cost savings through raw materials, manages trained sensory panels, supports operational efficiency projects, and troubleshoots production and quality challenges, to name a few.
- How do you think product development has changed the landscape of the beverage industry?
Over the last two decades, the beverage industry has undergone many major transformations. Products are constantly evolving, driven by shifting consumer interests and advancements in ingredients and processing technologies.
When I started my career in food 20+ years ago, soymilk stood as the primary dairy alternative in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, with minimal consumer interest in plant-based foods. Fast-forward, and the market is now flooded with diverse plant-based options, reshaping consumer preferences and impacting milk consumption. This shift not only reflects changing tastes, but also influences the products that our customers develop, aligning with the ingredients we provide at Finlays. I love witnessing industry evolution and I am excited for the innovations that lie ahead with our customers!
- What is one of your favorite products that you have developed?
One of my favorite products that I developed at Finlays is Fair Trade Coffee Extract. I developed this as a match to a product for a Coffee Milkshake at a popular American fast casual restaurant chain. I love the challenge of a matching project AND getting to see our work out in the market, plus it tastes great, you may have tried it before!
- What flavors do you love the most in coffee and/ or tea?
I love spice and brown type flavors, like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, maple, brown sugar, etc. A dirty chai latte – chai tea latte plus a shot of espresso – is my favorite indulgent coffee and tea beverage.
- What do you get up to in your spare time?
In my spare time, I enjoy reading a wide variety of books, experimenting with gluten free/ low-FODMAP baking, and can often be found chauffeuring my 8-year-old daughter to gymnastics, birthday parties, and other activities!
- Tell us a surprising fact about you!
I used to be a professional gum chewer! Most of my career has been in coffee, tea, and juice-based beverages, but I spent some time in the confectionery world where I was a member of stability panels for chewing gum and bubble gum. I got paid to sit in a conference room with other adults chewing gum and blowing bubbles for 30 minutes!