The darling spuds of Tayside

The darling spuds of Tayside

Karen Peattie finds out how leading potato company Albert Barlett is focusing on the provenance of the humble tattie in promoting Scotland’s ‘Year of Food and Drink’

As Mike Cantlay introduced the first screening of VisitScotland’s new Brilliant Moments TV advertisements, it was clear that the national tourism body had become very serious indeed about food and drink. This was, after all, the launch of the Year of Food and Drink Scotland 2015 so it was only to be expected that one of the new ads would whet the appetite by serving up a mouthwatering entrée of Scotland’s larder.

Featuring berry picking in Perthshire, sumptuous seafood from North Berwick, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, and Shirley Spear and Michael Smith from the Michelin-star The Three Chimneys on Skye, the ad also weaves in iconic images of Scotland such as deer on the Isle of Rum, Eilean Donan Castle and the Ring of Brodgar. It will be shown throughout the UK during 2015.

With Scotland’s food and drink tourism industry now worth an estimated £2.5 million per day to the economy, it is hoped that the Year of Food and Drink – a Scottish Government initiative led in partnership by EventScotland, VisitScotland and food industry body Scotland Food & Drink – will go a long way to cementing the nation’s global reputation as a ‘Land of Food and Drink’.

Speaking at the BT Murrayfield launch of the year-long celebration, Cantlay nodded to the success of the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup, the 970 events that were part of Homecoming Scotland and the recent MTV European Music Awards in Glasgow as instilling an “appetite for success” in everyone involved in tourism in Scotland.

“2014 showed the world that Scotland was the perfect place to visit with warm welcoming people, a fantastic atmosphere and unmissable events,” said the VisitScotland chairman. “The Year of Food and Drink will see visitors from far and wide come to sample our enticing natural larder – and Scots enjoy the delicious cuisine that is right on their doorstep.”

So with visitors spending one-fifth of their holiday budget on eating and drinking, is Scotland’s hospitality industry – and the producers which supply it – doing enough to capitalise on the lucrative growth opportunity? Many are.

Take the partnership between Lanarkshire-based Albert Barlett, the UK’s leading grower and packer of potatoes and the Michelin-star chefs Andrew Fairlie and Michel Roux Jr, who star in the company’s TV ads. As Michael Jarvis, head of marketing for Albert Bartlett and its sister company, Scotty Brand, explains: “The provenance of our produce is pretty much at the core of everything we do. Everything is locally sourced from farmers who are as passionate as we are about growing quality food and ensuring that our customers – and the end consumer – have 100% confidence in our produce.

The biggest concentration of Bartlett’s potato farms in Scotland are on the East coast, in Fife, eastern Perthshire, Angus, and Tayside.

“Food is a very personal thing and increasingly people, when they’re eating out, want to know its story,” he continues. “Celebrity endorsement by high-profile chefs like Andrew Fairlie and Michel Roux is obviously fantastic for our potatoes and we’re delighted to have both of them as our ambassadors, along with the writer and TV cook, Sally Bee. It’s a connection that consumers relate to but they’re just as interested in finding out about who grows the potatoes on their plate.”

Fairlie, whose restaurant Andrew Fairlie @ Gleneagles in Perthshire is Scotland’s only two Michelin-starred restaurant, needed no convincing to join forces with Albert Barlett. “He’s been using our potatoes for the last 12 years so it’s a very genuine endorsement,” says Jarvis. “Michel Roux also uses them at Le Gavroche in London so our TV adverts are very honest.”

In research conducted by Bartlett, consumers answered a “resounding yes” when asked if they believe that Fairlie and Roux actually use the company’s potatoes which include Britain’s favourite branded potato brand Rooster as well as Russet, Vivaldi, Anya and Apache varieties. “That’s extremely positive and has a knock-on effect in terms of sales but we also work hard at engaging with people via our advertising, website and social media,” Jarvis points out.

“You can go on to the website and get loads of recipes created by our ambassadors that are very simple so everyone can try them at home. But there are also recipes for more ambitious cooks – it’s a very user-friendly site and that’s key to engaging with people as is social media like Twitter and Facebook.”

Taking the humble spud to this new level of recognition among Scotland’s premier hospitality providers is a masterclass in marketing and innovation. Remember Albert Bartlett’s previous TV ads featuring Desperate Housewives stars Marcia Cross and Jesse Metcalfe? That’s quite a coup for an independent, family-owned firm that has its head office in Airdrie!