Raise a glass to Moray-Speyside this Christmas
When children and their mums and dads leave out a bit of shortbread – and maybe even a wee dram – near the tree for Santa Claus this Christmas Eve, it is a safe bet that at least one of these items will have come from a single area of Scotland just 864 square miles in size.
In fact, Moray-Speyside produces such a wide range and high volume of festive goodies that it could well be described as the nation’s Christmas hamper.
I have spent most of my life in the seafood business, so the most obvious place for me to start is with smoked salmon. Buckie-based Associated Seafoods Ltd, which comprises Moray Seafoods, Lossie Seafoods and GlenIsla Shellfish, supplies a remarkable 120 tonnes of smoked salmon in the four weeks leading up to Christmas – 20 per cent of their annual production.
Just eight miles down the road at Fochabers, the Baxter family have been producing some of the county’s finest soups, preserves, condiments and chutneys for four generations.
They tell me that 25 per cent of the overall value of their beetroot, chutney and condiment sales can be attributed to the festive selling period. That’s an awful lot of cranberry sauce.
Then there’s shortbread, of course. Walkers Shortbread at Aberlour sells a truly mouth-watering 10 million plus packets, tins and cartons around the globe in the run-up to the festive season.
As well as seafood, sauces and shortbread, Moray-Speyside is synonymous with whisky. Speyside is home to some of the most iconic distilleries and finest single malts in the world.
Aberlour, Benromach, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan, Mortlach, Strathisla – these are just a few of the internationally recognised names among more than 50 operating Speyside distilleries.
It is regularly said within the Scotch whisky industry that almost two-thirds of annual UK sales are made in the weeks before Christmas, and a recent survey has found high confidence in the drinks industry that 2014 will be a good year. And, as ever, there will be a share for the angels!
Moray-Speyside is also fast becoming renowned for its craft beers. Producers such as the Speyside Craft Brewery, known for Randolph’s Leap, Bottlenose Bitter and Bow Fiddle Blonde, as well as Brewmeister and the Windswept Brewery are bringing a new dimension to the drinks industry’s long-established presence in the area.
A less well-known feature of Moray-Speyside is the preponderance of woodland. Around two-thirds of the area is covered in trees and the Laigh of Moray – the rich coastal plain from Fochabers to Brodie – is particularly good for growing Christmas trees, as shown by Hopeman Christmas Trees, owners of 400-acre Keam Farm.
As for what to wrap and place beneath your tree? Well, it’s hard to know where to start, such is the variety of gifts available in Moray-Speyside.
One thinks of Johnstons of Elgin and their fine cashmere and woollen clothing – almost one million garments sold worldwide in the run-up to Christmas. Or for the technologically minded, a computer game – Fallen Sword, Tank Battle, Russian Front, to name just three – from fast-growing Hunted Cow, based in Elgin.
But perhaps the best gift of all would be to give your nearest and dearest a visit to this wonderful part of the world, where they can watch dolphins leaping in our coastal waters, catch wild salmon in the River Spey, enjoy a dram at one of the many excellent distillery visitor centres, play golf in beautiful surroundings, or see the sites where the real King Macbeth lived his eventful life. I could go on.
Wherever you are spending Christmas, and wherever your goodies come from, on behalf of the Moray Enterprise Partnership, I’d like to wish you a Very Moray Christmas.
• John Cowe is chairman of Moray Economic Partnership