Haggis on a high from Canada to Kazakhstan

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EACH year, haggis makers prepare for a rush on their product as Burns Night approaches.

But, with the onset of Homecoming 2009 to mark the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth, producers say they are set to enjoy their busiest year yet.

Suppliers say orders have been flooding in from around the world, with the dish finding its way on to menus from Canada to Kazakhstan.

Stahly Quality Foods, of Fife, which sells tinned haggis, has reported record sales of its Burns Supper pack, particularly in Canada.

The owner, Ken Stahly, said: "We hope that the 250th anniversary of Burns will mean a bumper year for us."

The Edinburgh haggis company Macsweens, which ships up to 800 tons of haggis a year, said orders were coming in thick and fast ahead of Burns' birthday on 25 January.

"It's not even January yet, but there's certainly indication of a very healthy interest," said Jo Macsween, a director of the company.

She is anticipating a surge in new sales when its product goes on the shelves of Sainsbury's in Scotland for the first time, and the supermarket chain Morrisons rolls out haggis in more than 100 English stores. "We actually sell more haggis in England than we do in Scotland," Ms Macsween said.

The Scottish Government yesterday seized on haggis sales as the first evidence of a boost in economic activity tied to Homecoming 2009. It has invested more than 5 million in a year-long package of events aimed at attracting the Scottish diaspora. VisitScotland has encouraaged people to register their Burns celebrations on its website www.burnssupper2009.com.

With numbers changing daily, it showed 1,255 "Burns night hosts" registered yesterday. From high-flying Burns suppers atop Ben Nevis in Scotland and a sky-high tower in Toronto, they run from Tanzania to the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam, underlining a long-standing tradition of Burns suppers in the most remote places.

Easily the largest number are in England, with 569, compared with 364 in Scotland, 118 in the United States, 54 in Canada and 41 in Australia.

Richard Lochhead, the rural affairs secretary, said: "Haggis is a truly iconic Scottish dish and today's figures are particularly pleasing in what could be the biggest ever Burns night."

Haggis is traditionally made from a sheep's stomach stuffed with chopped liver, heart or lungs with blood and oatmeal.

On one estimate, Robert Burns is worth 160 million a year to the Scottish economy. It is hard to put a precise figure on the multimillion-pound haggis trade because makers vary from big suppliers to local butchers.

The leading Scottish chef Nick Nairn is among those who expect a boost in haggis business over the next year.

"We take care of catering at Stirling Castle and we get asked for haggis, neeps and tatties at all times of the year," he said.

"But I suspect we will be doing a lot more of that type of thing in the coming year. "

Ms Macsween said she believed 2009 would be the best year yet for haggis sales. European customers account for only up to 3 per cent of sales, but orders were already coming in.

"Not all of our orders are in yet for January, but they have certainly been coming in thick and fast since October," she said.

"We are doing our best to gear up in terms of publicity and sales, and help customers understand how important the event is. A lot of people like to get Christmas out of the way first."

More than 52 per cent of Macsweens' sales go to England, the firm's biggest customer.

A seat at the top table

SCOTTISH mountaineer Chris Dunlop held the highest ever Burns Supper two years ago almost 7,000m above sea level on top of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina.

He is now planning to celebrate on home turf at the top of Ben Nevis to mark Scotland's Year of Homecoming.

Other unusual Burns Supper plans in 2009 include one on the 500m-high CN Tower in Toronto and the most chilled-out supper hosted by a clan chief on Balmoral Beach in Australia. The Scientific Exploration Society headed by John Blashford-Snell plans a Burns night in July on a Bolivian lake as its team searches for the site of a meteorite's fall.

Burns night has long been celebrated round the world. The works of Burns are taught in Russian schools, and Russia claims to have more Burns clubs than Scotland.

In Ljubljana in Slovenia, people toast Scotland's bard with their literary counterpart, Prešeren, at the Society of Slovenian Scottish Friendship's annual Burns Prešeren Supper.

The Bhatti family in Sialkot, Pakistan, cherish the Burns Supper tradition and have made bagpipes for four generations.