His past achievements include scaling a mountain in a warzone and eradicating cockroaches from Russia.
Okay, the latter may be a bit of an exaggeration (though he did a lot to tackle the problem through the launch of bug spray Raid), but by comparison reinventing the Crispy Pancake should be a walk in the park for Mark Escolme, MD of Findus Group's UK frozen businesses Young's Seafood and Findus UK.
And the go-getting South African is certainly not daunted by the challenge. He arrived to head up the UK businesses six months ago amid a flurry of changes and restructuring at the £1.1bn Findus Group. Under private equity group Lion Capital, the group bought back the Findus licence in the UK last April to modernise the Findus and Young's brand, and 12 months on Escolme is eager to share with The Grocer his blueprint for future success.
Findus will play its part in improving consumer perception of the "unloved" frozen category through positioning itself as a 'fresh food, frozen company', he pledges, revealing the company's new mantra.
Over the next 12 months undisclosed sums will be invested in giving the Findus and Young's brands a new premium position through "never before seen" innovation to improve value sales and veer away from "a reliance on discounting". Revolutionising packaging, initiating a stronger marketing presence and committing to make the frozen aisle a more enticing prospect for disaffected shoppers are all part of his new manifesto.
Sat at the head of the gleaming boardroom table in his plush new central London office, it's easy to see why Findus Group hired Escolme. Prior to Findus, he spent 15 years establishing new markets in Brazil, China and Africa for SC Johnson. As marketing director of the company's Russian operation in the late 1990s, his brief was to introduce Raid products to tackle the country's cockroach population. "These years shaped my love of a challenge," he says. "I still love the opportunity of doing something that no-one has cracked yet."
Throughout the interview he peppers his answers with anecdotes of adventures in Russia, which include the ascent of Mount Elbrus, the 5,642m mountain on the dangerous Chechen-Russian border. He sees parallels between pioneering opportunities in Siberia, for example, with the unfulfilled potential of British frozen food.
This isn't to say he is at the helm of a struggling business. Group value sales have risen 8% to £232m with volumes increasing 10% [Nielsen 52w/e 20 February 2010] a solid base to build upon. But Escolme admits there is still much to be done, particularly in improving the frozen aisle's image.
"We are not going to launch anything that is downscale to a fresh or a chilled product. At present, we know the amount of frozen food bought in the UK every year equates to approximately £5bn. However, consumers have more than three times this value stored in freezers."
Escolme has set his sights on this "un-tapped opportunity" and intends to convert consumers by making frozen food more permissible.
"This can, and will, only be achieved through honest, consumer-centric innovation and by proving that frozen food can taste just as good, if not better, than fresh," he says. As manager of competing frozen brands, Escolme has had to be very careful to avoid any cannibalisation of sales. The NPD strategies of the two brands have been differentiated accordingly.
"With both Findus and Young's, we want to go into categories that aren't defined yet. Selling products around a main meal centre not quite a ready meal, not a piece of frozen meat but bridging in between."
He has lined up NPD to launch in September and there are also plans afoot to pour investment into Crispy Pancakes. The retro-favourite will be extended with new premium lines and "themed NPD", but he is reluctant to talk about specifics yet. An area he is happier to expand upon is improving the image of frozen. "One barrier that stops people buying frozen is that they like to see the product. And we don't show it. We are working on giving consumers better ability to see a product."
British retailers should take a lead from their Continental peers, he says. "French retailers are siting freezers in different parts of the store where there is heavier foot traffic. Continental stores have a lot of 'dress' in terms of how freezers are presented and we can learn from that."
Though his is a company in its infancy, the overall level of expertise has blossomed through the arrival of new recruits. His new chief marketing officer used to run P&G's European home-care operation, the corporate affairs director joined from the same role at Easyjet and the fish category director was global marketing director for Pampers. "We are hiring the best talent," he says.
He is equally enthusiastic about life under Lion Capital and relishes the opportunity to identify further acquisition targets this year. "We have ability now, when finding the right company, to drop them straight in and they will be supported by the central marketing and purchasing functions."
The combination of Lion Capital's financial clout, healthy sales growth, and a vibrant new team makes Escolme's latest challenge look eminently achievable.
Name: Mark Escolme
Position: Managing director of Young's Seafood and Findus UK
Family: Married with two children
Biography: Prior to joining the Findus Group in September 2009 he was group MD for the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand with SC Johnson. He started life as a marketing sales graduate for Winalot and Bonio maker Spillers Foods before joining SC Johnson in 1994.
Interests: Cycling. "Every year I ride the Cape Argus, the biggest cycle ride in the world in terms of the number of participants, 109km around Cape Town, 2,000 metres of ascent."
On travel: "At least once a week I am in Grimsby. I'm not joking I've worked in 25 countries around the world and the best view is from my office in Grimsby."
Most influential figure: "My old SC Johnson CEO Bill Perez, who went on to be CEO of Nike and then CEO of Wrigley. He parachuted me into places like Russia and Africa saying 'I know you can do it because you can survive'."