Milking success from the family farm

It's been 10 years since Mackie's won the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Award for its economic growth and outstanding environmental management. As entries open this year, we look at the continuing rise of this Scottish success story, at home and internationally.

In 2007 Mackie's won the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Award for economic growth and outstanding environmental management
In 2007 Mackie's won the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Award for economic growth and outstanding environmental management

The idea of ‘the family business’ can be overplayed by marketing teams, but Mackie’s of Scotland provides a model example of how it should be done.

Currently run by three siblings – managing director Maitland “Mac” Mackie, marketing director Karin Hayhow, and development director Kirstin McNutt – the company is based on the family farm in Westertown, Aberdeenshire. The current management is the fourth generation of Mackies to run the business, a one-time dairy farm which has now diversified into ice cream, crisps, and chocolate.

“It was never compulsory or expected to head into the ‘family business’,” said Karin, who previously worked in law before heading back to the family farm. “There’s three siblings all involved in product development. We’re all quite different, but we all get along very well. It’s good fun.”

'Traditional' continues to be Mackie's most popular ice cream flavour

The words ‘fun’, ‘indulgent’ and ‘treat’ come up a great deal when talking to Karin. It’s an infectious attitude, but perhaps a natural by-product of the day job – after all, if you can’t enjoy yourself making ice cream to please the masses, what hope is there?

The late – and clearly much beloved – Maitland Mackie, Karin’s father, founded Mackie’s in 1986, a savvy move in response to changing consumer habits. At the time Westertown was a milking farm, but consumers were increasingly buying semi-skimmed milk, leaving the farm with a surplus of cream to be used. Maitland purchased the ice cream-making equipment from a recently folded Aberdeen ice cream company, and Mackie’s was born.

It was a start that predicted the ethos of the company in the 32 years since – attune to market forces, shrewd in business decisions and determined to avoid waste.

Fancy a green ice cream?

'Traditional' continues to be Mackie's most popular ice cream flavour

“Our mission statement is to be the greenest brand in Britain,” Karin said, and their progress towards that goal is impressive.

With the first wind turbine installed in 2005, and three more since, the farm has its own renewable energy source – some 70% of the farm’s energy comes from the turbines. There are solar panels, biomass boilers and a 150 acre arboretum planted to soak up carbon emissions. That arboretum was planted by the siblings’ late mother, Halldis, containing 147 trees of 112 species. It also marks where their father was buried – yet another sign of how intrinsically the Mackies are tied to the farm, the land, and the natural world.

“Everything is made on the farm. We utilise renewable energy and grow the crops to feed the cows, who make the milk, to make the ice cream,” said Karin, summarising their ‘sky to scoop’ production process.

Growing from strength to strength

With 330 cows producing some 10 million litres of ice cream each year, 60 employees on site and a turnover of around £11 million a year, that process is an established success for Mackie’s, which is forecasting great growth in its export revenue to Asia in 2018, citing a ‘major growth’ in sales to the region. Mackie’s has already proven popular in UAE, Abu Dhabi and Korea, but has recently seen a marked spike in demand from Taiwan, as well.

Asked about the secret to Mackie’s popularity, Karin is fulsome in her response: “People rely upon Mackies. They rely on us to come up with good, traditional flavours. ‘Traditional’ is still by far our most popular flavour – accounting for 67 per cent of ice cream sales – followed by honeycomb.

“When we innovate, we’re unique, but not too extreme. The most important thing is that it tastes great. So we’ve done limited seasonal releases – in summer, we did ‘St Clement’s ripple’, a lemon and orange ripple flavour, and at the moment we’re selling caramel biscotti.”

A crisp bit of business

A 2009 partnership with the Taylor family – trading as Taypack (at the time 50/50, now 75/25 in Taypack’s favour) saw the Mackie’s brand stretch out into crisps, including its much lauded haggis and black peppercorn flavour. “They were initially intended to be a limited edition flavour, but demand was such that they’re still in the range.”

And it’s been a success, with the crisp brand taking top spot at the 2017 Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards for exporting, and gongs in 2014 for Confectionary and Snacking, and in 2010 for Product of the Year.

Cocoa beans in Scotland?

In 2014, chocolate followed for Mackie’s of Scotland, using many local sourced ingredients. “We were looking at what was made in Scotland, and while there are 80 or so chocolatiers in Scotland who create their own chocolate, they’re artisans, they’re not producing at scale,” said Karin.

The chocolate is produced in a factory built in a converted tractor shed, in four key flavours. It operates as the ice cream production does – apart from the cocoa beans, all the ingredients are manufactured on the farm. Mackie’s refine, conche and temper the chocolate on site.

“We did look at growing our own cocoa trees, but we would have produced about three beans, so it wasn’t considered viable!”

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face

Mackie’s recently raised eyebrows with its haggis and marmalade novelty ice cream, offered in celebration of Burns Night. Made with the genuine article, it boasted an entire haggis per tub.

“We didn’t make a huge amount – we thought people would come in and want a small taste, rather than a full serving,” Karin said. “We were quite surprised when it sold out!”

The offering was available at the 19.2 parlour, in Aberdeen’s Marischal Square. Mackie’s latest venture, the ice cream parlour launched in December 2017, and so named as it is located exactly 19.2 miles away from the Mackie’s family farm. As with everything Mackie’s, it all comes back to the land.

The Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards 2018 are currently calling for entries from the cream of the crop of Scotland's food and drink industry.

For more information, or to enter, visit www.foodanddrink.scot