Gluten-free products boost Nairn’s sales by 9.6%

Martyn Gray and Mark Laing. Picture: Jane Barlow
Martyn Gray and Mark Laing. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A GROWING demand for gluten­-free snacks has boosted sales at Nairn’s, the Scottish oatcakes maker.

The company said sales of its growing range of strictly wheat-free products have “exceeded all expectations” after it built an exclusive factory in Edinburgh to produce biscuits, muesli, oatcakes and porridge pots that are approved to a standard which makes the products suitable for people with an intolerance for gluten.

The 9.6 per cent boost in sales comes as the company’s founder, managing director Mark Laing, has announced he will be taking a step back from the business to become chairman. His successor, Martyn Gray, who joined the company two-and-a-half years ago as marketing director, will take over as managing director in June. Under Gray’s management, the company will continue its focus on developing new products.

Although exports remained stable last year, the company expects these to increase in 2013-14 particularly in its “key” North American market where the company sells crackers instead of oatcakes and cookies instead of biscuits. Last year, the company established a business to import its products to the US, Nairn’s Inc.

It also works with a Connecticut-based agency, Green Seed North America. Formerly called Food from Britain, the group was founded by two former British employees of United Biscuits and specialises in breaking UK foodstuffs into the lucrative but fragmented US market.

Laing, 62, led a management buyout of the business 17 years ago with fellow investors, business development director John Holroyd, technical director Gavin Love and finance director Ken McGarrity.

The majority shareholder in the business, Laing is essentially “biscuit aristocracy”. His father was Hector, Baron 
Laing of Dunphail, the chairman of UK snack food giant, United Biscuits. His great-great grandfather, Alexander Grant, was credited with inventing the digestive biscuit.

He confirmed that the founders have “no plans” to sell the business.

“We have sufficient confidence in the future to want to retain ownership,” said Laing.

“We have looked at acquisitions over the last few years but we have always shied away from them because we have been confident we can grow organically, which we think is a more sustainable model.

“We have achieved double-digit sales growth since we completed the management buyout and for a food company I think that is a reasonable achievement.”

According to accounts set to be posted at Companies House, turnover for the financial year ending June 2012 increased by 9.6 per cent to £17.5 million. Operating profit rose by 5.3 per cent as a result of strong sales growth, but was impacted heavily by substantial increases in the cost of raw materials and on-going marketing investment in both the gluten-free and US markets, the company said. Nevertheless, pre-tax profits rose to £1.8m from £1.7m last year.