12 food and drink entrepreneurs pick one thing they could change

Karin Hayhow, marketing director at food producer Mackies of Scotland, Aberdeenshire. Picture: Contributed
Karin Hayhow, marketing director at food producer Mackies of Scotland, Aberdeenshire. Picture: Contributed
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Wishful Thinking: Vision Scotland asked a dozen entrepreneurs in the food and drink sector for one thing they would alter to help their business grow

Karin Hayhow

Marketing director at food producer Mackie’s of Scotland, Aberdeenshire

“We would wish for ‘trial or teleport’ – and I am not sure which is more likely to be possible. We’d like the major retailers to give small and medium-sized Scottish brands and producers like ourselves more chance to trial our products in England. This would include shelf or freezer space, supported with in-store promotion, tastings and shelf marks at a reasonable price. We believe that we could then prove that our products will be just as popular down south as they are in Scotland – we just need to be given the chance for consumers to try a wider range of our products. The alternative method would be to ‘teleport’ a tub of our ice cream into every household in the UK and hope that the recipients will then ask for Mackie’s in their local store.”

James Macsween

Managing director at haggis maker MacSween of Edinburgh

“Cut out the red tape between us and the north American market. We have been subjected to a 45-year-old meat ban on haggis entering both the United States and Canada. Finally, after all this time, the Scottish Government and the department of environment, food and rural affairs are taking the steps to get meat and meat products to these shores. There are roughly ten million Scottish Americans and Canadians in north America and that’s a huge audience, potentially looking to eat the world-famous haggis. After my trip with Richard Lochhead last year to the US, we are finally getting through all this red tape. The opportunity is massive and could be a transformational chunk of new business. It can’t come soon enough and I will be delighted to send genuine Scotch haggis to north America and give the diaspora haggis that has been truly worth the wait.”

Lynn Mann

Co-founder of cold-pressed rapeseed oil producer Supernature, Midlothian

“It’s been a very exciting time for the food and drink industry in Scotland over the past few years. I think the one thing that would help take our business to the next level would be the continued building of ‘Brand Scotland’ as a stamp of quality, provenance and taste, to really create a premium offering of produce that is aligned to the beauty, fertility and wholesomeness of our lands. We can build on what Scotland Food & Drink and Scottish Development International have already been doing in creating ‘Brand Scotland’ for us to use in promoting our great products.”

David Trotter

Account director at caterer Sodexo Sports & Leisure

“I would like the regulations on selling alcoholic beverages in football grounds reversed. In Scotland, football stadia are the only sporting venues where alcohol cannot be consumed by fans outside of hospitality areas. This legislation was introduced in the 1980s, but much has changed since then. We now have fully-seated, safe and modern facilities and have proved, through the likes of the Commonwealth Games and the re-introduction of alcohol at rugby grounds, that it can be done successfully. Of course, this would improve revenue, but most of all, would enhance customer experience and provide a level-playing field across all sporting venues.”

Viv Muir

Founder of NB Gin, East Lothian

“NB Gin has been growing at a rapid rate since its launch in 2013. Within six months there was demand both in the UK and internationally for the product given its exceptional quality. The company now distributes globally to more than ten countries. This is with limited investment and a low resource base. Apart from the obvious answer of funding, the one change that would help our business grow is a strategy for brand activation in new markets and associated grants or funding for this purpose.”

Owen Hazel

Co-owner of Jannettas Gelateria, St Andrews

“We would like to see the introduction of a help centre to keep small businesses up to date on ever-changing legislation, especially in the current political climate. Larger corporates have dedicated teams to ensure compliance but there’s a real shortfall of information available to small family businesses. Thriving small firms, with potential to grow, can be crucified by red tape, as legislation can be so costly and time-consuming to implement. Surely the small business community needs to be given a voice calling for some flexibility, or access to funding to assist with putting new procedures in place? An example is the new food labelling legislation coming into effect in December. Although we are eager to cater for those with allergies and intolerances, each and every product we sell wholesale will need to be analysed in a lab and, thereafter, labelled in minute detail. Small businesses need support with such rules if they are to survive.”

Fiona Houston

“SeaEO” and co-founder of Mara Seaweed, Edinburgh

“The one change I have made over the past few months of economic and political uncertainty – to which there appears to be no end in sight – is to accept as my morning mantra: ‘God give me the grace to accept the things I cannot change…’ One change that would help grow my business is an easier, quicker and more imaginative approach to financing that would accelerate our ability to innovate and scale our business, to be agile enough to take advantage of opportunities. Our biggest challenge is figuring out how to manage the dance between growth and finance.”

Jill Clark

Director at Connage Dairy, Ardersier

“As a country, we’ve got such a wide variety of fantastic produce, and so it makes sense to try and promote it as widely as possible. We’re about to start the process to become British Retail Consortium (BRC) accredited, as we feel that this will help to open up more markets for Connage’s products. In turn, we hope that this will help to raise the profile of Scottish cheeses, and Scotland’s food and drink industry in general. We’ve just launched our Connage Dunlop under the Scottish Dairy brand in the United States, and we believe this will continue to promote the Scottish dairy industry, which needs all the support it can get in the current climate.”

Justin Maule

Director of Wild Fig Catering, East Kilbride

“Access to funding not only to progress ideas from concept to roll-out but to grow and sustain a business is challenging. Looking at the bank as the primary mode of lending is no longer the answer and there is an expectation and a much greater need to be creative in raising finance. Crowdfunding, corporate bonds, peer-to-peer lending, angel investors, invoice factoring – it’s a bit of a minefield. Having help from an agency or someone with professional expertise such as a business mentor would be fantastic in determining the best option to pursue.”

Alban Denton

Managing director at salmon producer Loch Duart, Sutherland

“We need 100 per cent voice and data coverage. Quality communications for everyone, everywhere – even in the most remote parts of Scotland. We need a planning consent system that is simpler, faster and fairer. Planning for controlled sustainable aquaculture development is still over-regulated and too slow. We need less red tape in every area, lower business rates and better incentives to invest in jobs and infrastructure. Simple.”

Paul Miller

Founder of Eden Mill distillery and brewery, Fife

“I’m frustrated by legislation around whisky that was once designed to protect Scotch but has now become restrictive. The laws so often work against craft distilleries like ours as we try to appeal to a more modern, category-educated and interested customer. On the other hand, there’s also an urgent need to make clear that what is sold as Scottish, actually is Scottish. Consumers are increasingly aware of provenance so it’s time we stopped patronising them. Greater transparency for consumers will really build confidence and justify premium.”

Ronnie Miles

Managing director at pie maker Bells Food Group, Shotts

“If I had to make one change to help businesses in our sector grow, increased investment in attracting and developing those coming into our industry would be key. Recently we’ve seen sweeping funding reductions for training, specifically modern apprenticeships, across a number of different sectors. Food and drink has been particularly hard hit. I’m concerned at the impact these reductions will have on the number of apprentices coming into the industry. Our sector makes a significant and valuable contribution to our economy. That needs to be recognised in helping staff development and retention, which is a key objective in any company, large or small.”

• This article appears in the Autumn 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.