Why innovation can be key to success in small rural businesses like on the Isle of Mull

I’m not of the right age to have seen or appreciated the kids’ TV programme Balamory, which was filmed in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.

But the success of the colourful town’s transformation lives on today in the successes of some local businesses, one being The Tobermory Fish Company. Owner Sally Mccoll said it was the influx of visitors to the island due to Balamory, which led her mother’s toy shop to being so popular that, when she sold, she could help with the setting up of the fish business. The move allowed the family to continue in the line of work inspired by Ms Mccoll’s grandparents.

Mull is once again the star of the small screen, with Banjo Beale, winner of the BBC programme Interior Design Masters, hosting his own show, Designing the Hebrides. The programme involves transforming local business premises, including the Tobermory Fish Company’s picture perfect shop. Here you can buy a range of locally sourced fish and seafood, as well as produce from other local and wider Scottish businesses.

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The Tobermory Fish Company only uses natural ingredients and sustainable resources to produce artisan foods in family recipes which have been perfected over generations. The company was founded in 1971 by Hugh and Marjorie Goldie, which has since been passed to daughter Rosie and granddaughter Sally. The company is known for its bright orange cold smoked Tobermory trout as well as its delicious hot smoked mussels. Customers can also buy crackers, jams and biscuits from other Scottish businesses.

The Isle of MullThe Isle of Mull
The Isle of Mull

Another business that featured on Designing the Hebrides was the Isle of Mull Cheese, which has been operated by the Reade family at Sgriob-ruadh farm since 1985. Now in its third generation of cheese makers, the award-winning cheese is made with unpasteurised milk from the family’s own herd of dairy cows, using 100 per cent sustainable energy.

Historically, cheesemaking on the islands had long been a necessary method of conserving the plentiful milk supply of summertime. Recently the family ventured into distilling, using whey, a by-product from cheese making that was, historically, fed to the farm pigs. They now produce three spirit drinks – Sgriob-ruadh, Coo J'N and Cheesemakers Strength.

While Iverlussa Mussels didn’t get the Banjo treatment, it has been voted the best mussel producer in Scotland by the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers on numerous occasions. Opened in the 1980s, the team has been agile and adapted to changing circumstances.

They visited various farms in New Zealand to study their methods before becoming the first company in Scotland to invest in a continuous rope culture system from New Zealand in 2006.

While TV programmes have come and gone from Mull, what is constant are independent businesses which are changing, adapting and collaborating to survive, not to mention creating and farming some of the jewels in Scotland’s crown of produce. All of these suppliers, and more, can be seen on the plates of restaurants and hotels across Scotland and some in the rest of the UK, as well as locally including the namesake, Isle of Mull Hotel, showing that innovation and passion are drivers of success.



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