IF there’s one thing guaranteed to get people talking it’s food and drink, and with 2015 being promoted by VisitScotland as Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, this clearly represents a fantastic opportunity for our producers.
Working in partnership with influential industry body Scotland Food & Drink, VisitScotland’s aim this year is to get the message across to everyone living in Scotland – and, of course, visitors – that the nation deserves to be recognised for its world-leading natural larder.
What does this mean? It means that throughout 2015, people will be encouraged to taste their way around the country by eating out, attending events, visiting distilleries, exploring farmers’ markets and following food trails. In other words, get out there and discover for yourself the world-class, award-winning, protected-status food and drink Scotland is famous for – and enjoy your very own taste of Scotland.
VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said: “2014 showed the world that Scotland was the perfect place to visit with warm welcoming people, a fantastic atmosphere and unmissable events. The Year of Food and Drink will see visitors far and wide come and sample our enticing natural larder and Scots enjoying the delicious cuisine that is right on their doorstep.
“Visitors spend one-fifth of their holiday budget on eating and drinking so promoting our natural larder is a recipe for success. After the major events of 2014, interest in Scotland is high but we can’t rest on our laurels – we must continue taking Scotland to the world, showcasing our strengths and positioning Scotland as the perfect place to visit and do business.”
Demonstrating that Scotland is a true destination for those who love good food and drink, its provenance and the stories behind the people who produce it, the Year of Food and Drink got off to a high-profile start with activity around Burns Night and other themed months are coming up – whisky in May, for example, and summer berries and fruits in July.
Food and drink remains a key business driver for Scotland, up there with energy, life sciences, financial services and, crucially, tourism. Events taking place throughout the year – including the established Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight in September – will underscore the key role which food and drink plays in Scotland’s economic growth and cultural development.
Scotland Food & Drink, meanwhile, is well on course with its mission to grow the industry’s value to £16.5bn by 2017. And the good news? Producers are punching well above their weight in terms of innovation, responding to consumer trends and creating a point of difference
James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: “Food and drink is now one of the nation’s greatest success stories and the Year of Food and Drink couldn’t come at a better time. Scotland’s reputation for world-class produce is advancing across the globe as well as at home and we can now keep the momentum up through 2015.
“We are blessed with a fantastic, diverse larder with food and drink businesses that are over a century old working alongside a new generation of start-ups,” he continued. “Collectively they are what make us a Land of Food and Drink and what have driven our sector to being the top performer in Scotland’s economy over recent years. But, critically, success for the food and drink sector means success for our tourism businesses too. This year is the perfect platform for both these sectors to work together and make fresh strides forward.”
Here are my ten-to-watch companies/brands to whet the appetite during 2015:
Curry Dave, Glasgow
Glasgow-based entrepreneur and chef Dave Gannon has tapped into the nation’s love of curry and pizza with his Curry Dave Currizzas, launched in 2013. Using Indian naan bread as a base, they are topped with authentically fresh curry sauces and grated mozzarella. Gannon came up with his invention as an experimental snack for staff at his Indian restaurant in the French ski resort of Chamonix, and is now on track to produce 10,000 currizzas a week. A master of publicity, Gannon is fast spreading the word about his brand and has plans to expand it into curry sauces, bhajees and pakoras. He recently clinched a deal to supply 107 Tesco stores.
Owner: Dave Gannon
Isle of Skye Brewing Company, Skye
Isle of Skye Brewing Company has embarked on a £450,000 development programme to expand production capacity at its site in Uig and grow the business. Supported by a £116,000 grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Isle of Skye has established a distribution centre in the central belt and recruited two business development managers to lead growth of the brewery’s customer base at home and abroad. Its business strategy has also involved a rebranding exercise to make its brands more appealing to modern drinkers. Isle of Skye, founded in 1998 by Angus MacRuary, is looking to export 20% of all production in the next three years.
Managing Director: Kenny Webster
Macsween is renowned the world over for its haggis but this long-established Edinburgh institution – over 60 years old now – is very much at the forefront of driving innovation in this most traditional of food sectors. Who would have thought wild boar or venison could find their way into haggis? Macsween, under the stewardship of siblings Jo and James Macsween, has taken the humble haggis to an entirely new level and their family business to turnover in the region of £5 million. Its three bird grouse, pheasant and duck haggis may not be to everyone’s taste but Macsween is making this Scottish staple interesting and attracting new consumers in the process. Haggis is not just for Burns Night or St Andrew’s Day.
Joint Managing Directors: Jo and James Macsween
Makar Glasgow Gin
Gin is very much the “in thing” in Scotland just now and there are many new and interesting brands emerging in this exciting market. The Glasgow Distillery Company (GDC) is just one of the firms driving the sector and its small-batch Makar Glasgow Gin is the first to be produced in Glasgow. Drinks industry veteran Liam Hughes and accountant Ian McDougall are behind the venture and the gin is available through drinks supplier Wine Importers and The Glasgow Distillery Company – it is gaining growing listings in bars, restaurants and hotels.
Chief Executive: Liam Hughes
Summerhouse Drinks, Aberdeenshire
One of Scotland’s newest, family-owned soft drinks companies, Summerhouse Drinks company was set up in January 2014 yet is already making a big impression. The brainchild of Claire Rennie, who graduated from Aberdeen University in 1998 with a BSc Hons in geography, it produces a range of 100% natural slightly sparkling drinks with no artificial preservatives, colours or flavours.
The range includes Misty Lemonade, Scottish Raspberry Lemonade and a Hint O’Mint – Lavender Lemonade is new for 2015. The drinks are produced in small batches on the family farm near Fraserburgh. Rennie, who wanted to create a “grown-up, sophisticated flavour that is special without alcohol”, has recently embarked on a brand revamp including a new website and refreshed label. Currently stocked in farm shops and independent retailers, the Summerhouse brand is attracting considerable trade and consumer interest – expect to see more of it in 2015.
Owner: Claire Rennie
Border Biscuits, Lanark
Border Biscuits has been around over 30 years now, quietly doing what it does without making too much of a song or dance about it. More recently, however, it’s been making a noise – and quite rightly too. The Lanark-based firm, still independently owned and family run, has notched up a turnover in excess of £12 million and is now the top 20 sweet biscuit brand and third fastest-growing biscuit brand, according to Neilson data in December 2014.
Borders’ famous Dark Chocolate Gingers take a lot of beating but innovations such as its newer Deliciously Different range along with fun combinations including Strawberry & Cream Melts have contributed to a sharp sales increase and more store listings across its portfolio of premium biscuits. A dab hand when it comes to social media, this is a firm that likes to have a bit of fun – it renamed January “Ginger January” to celebrate the success of its best-selling Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate Gingers.
Founder and Managing Director: John Cunningham
Damn Delicious, Lanarkshire
Damn Delicious, a Lanark-based online butcher, is fast making a name for itself as a producer of premium Aberdeen Angus beef, natural grass-fed lamb and free range pork. Michael Shannon operates Scotland’s only complete forage-based beef finishing system – based on a New Zealand-style concept – at Thankerton, the family farm near Lanark. Finding favour with high-profile chefs such as Mark Greenaway in Edinburgh, Damn Delicious delivers all over the UK and runs a farm shop, and has found a niche with its 100% natural produce. Procuring beef and lamb since 1996 and selling to the public
since 2007, the firm has expanded its range
to include pies, free range pork bought directly from a farm in the Borders, and free range Norfolk Black and Kelly Bronze Christmas turkeys reared at Thankerton. Distinctive marketing and an eye-catching logo have helped raise the firm’s profile.
Owners: Michael and Michelle Shannon
Cracking Cookies, Lanarkshire
Cracking Cookies is a highly innovative business targeting the gift, celebration
and events market with premium-quality, gourmet fortune cookies. Still less than two years old, the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Michelle and Kevin Waugh specialise in natural flavours with no artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives. Inside, messages can be themed for occasions and customers can even order their own bespoke cookies to announce a new baby, for example, or even a marriage proposal! There’s a lot of fun at Cracking Cookies HQ and attending consumer events such as the Country Living Fair in Glasgow is contributing to growing sales of these hand-crafted delights. Definitely one to watch in 2015.
Owners: Michelle and Kevin Waugh
Stag Bakeries, Stornoway
Bakery is big business nowadays and quietly building a local, UK and international business from humble beginnings on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides is Stag Bakeries. The Stornoway-based bakery has embarked on a significant £500,000 growth strategy to modernise and expand parts of the business to meet increased demand, with plans factoring in a 30% increase in the workforce over the next three years.
The Stag brand is growing via distribution in the UK speciality food market and has secured lucrative listings in some of the best independent delis, farm shops and upmarket food halls. Export markets include Ireland, Canada, Belgium, Norway and Portugal, and a strategy is in place to target emerging markets. In November, the firm secured funding support of £116,700 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in view of its importance to the island’s economy.
Owner: Charles Macdonald
Great Glen Charcuterie, Inverness-shire
Dutch couple Anja Baak and Jan Jacob saw a niche in the market for Scottish-produced charcuterie products and set up their business at Roy Bridge in the Highlands 10 years ago. Recognising the demand for continental charcuterie such as chorizo and salami in delis, they tapped into their experience of wild venison and developed a range of award-winning artisan products – including Chilli Venison Chorizo, Green Pepper Venison Salami, Venison Peperami and Venison Bresaola – which are available in independent retail outlets and farms shops. Chefs are also using Great Glen products, all made using sustainable, local wild venison which is low in cholesterol and calories.
Owners: Anja Baak and Jan Jacob