Chieftain o’ the pudding race

By James Macsween, director, Macsween

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sausage

Chieftain o’ the	      pudding race
My grandfather set up the company in 1953. He had his own fleet of engineers and vans.

I joined in 1992. I was going to become a sports instructor. I did a sports science diploma in Edinburgh, but worked most of my holidays in the business and got drawn in.

Prior to 1996 we were a large family butchers based in Bruntsfield, south Edinburgh that had made a great name for itself in haggis. Then in 1996, BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) was announced.

Mum and dad sold our retail premises to a fruit and veg retailer. They spent every penny of their savings and gave up £200,000 in red meat sales just to move to the world's first purpose built haggis factory. They had to find more revenue.

We spent £750,000 building this factory, but we are considering moving to a new unit now to help with dispatch. This is getting a bit small with all the new lines we are doing. We set up as a limited business in 1998/99.We built an extension in 2003, which cost almost as much as the factory and involved a £250,000 investment in equipment.

Dad was reticent about the business getting too big and favoured organic growth. He believed the business you got you could just as easily lose. He died in 2006. We had been working on Safeway that year.

We secured a listing with Safeway and it wasn't long before we got Costco, Tesco, Booths and Waitrose. When Morrisons took over Safeway [2004], we hadn't planned for all the new business, so we had to say no, but they came on board later. Then in the last couple of years we got Sainsbury and Asda. Asda had been asking for 1224 months and only got the contract this time last year.

There's still a lot more to do. We're only nationwide with Morrisons and Waitrose, so there's another £1M worth of growth there. We're currently producing 1,100t of product a year, with the capacity to double that.

We work with Scottish Enterprise exporting a small percentage of product to Europe, but it's not a huge market for us.

We have only had our Darfresh microwaveable packaging line for the past two years, creating one-minute microwaveable haggis. We invested in the line with Cryovac. We have a tie-up with Multivac on the line, so we have a thermoformer and we have microwaveable film that allows us to cook product in the pack. This skin packing machine went live in September 2009.

We try to sink every penny into the business and take quite modest salaries. This year we have made significant investments. We need to grow and bring labour costs down.

We put in a Formul8t enterprise resource planning system from Sanderson in May 2010. Six weeks ago we installed a Cryovac Rotary 8620 and BL75 haggis autoloading vacuum packing line that allows us to pack the same products with fewer staff. Wage costs have their challenges.

We got the autoloading machine, which we believe was the first in the UK food industry, in October 2010. It's not really designed for haggis, which is where we have hit a few snags. The pusher arm is designed for cheese, so it's making an impression on the product. We're waiting on a small modification. We have spent £314,000 on that line, which represents our biggest single capital expenditure to date. It processes 22 products a minute, with the potential to do 30.

We have a three- and five-year plan, looking at moving haggis away from the traditional image of 'neeps and tatties' into snacking and convenience. We brought out a sliced pack, which is really popular for parents of teenage kids. The haggis is cut and vacuum-packed the same day. We have a blast chilling facility.

The next thing will be making black pudding in vegetarian and sliced packs to complement our range. That's our project for next year. We are also looking at making that microwaveable. Traditionally it has always been grilled.

We are looking at ready meals, making haggis more convenient and attractive. We make vegetarian haggis using alginate from seaweed as sausage casing. It was always collagen-based. We're looking at crumbing haggis as well.

We also use sustainable non-hydrogenated vegetable margarine off the back of our relationship with Waitrose.

We buy in lamb lungs, beef fat, oatmeal, dried onions, seasoning and beef gut, which we get from Uruguay and Argentina, although we try to source locally. The price is good because labour rates there are cheap. We get drums of beef intestine, desalinate them, then fill them with haggis. Using the traditional sheep stomach is a dying art. The lungs and fat are cooked in vats and processed in a mincer/grinder. Then we add gravy.

We want to be landfill-free by 2012 and are already 90% of the way there. We compost food waste, which costs less than landfill. Next year I want all of our production to be sustainable. We are nearly 100% compliant on effluent allowances. We use sackcloth when we're washing our Laska mincer/grinder, for example, which picks up all the big stuff. And we sell all of our solidified fat to a biodiesel processor.

We decided the best way to handle our plastics waste was to buy a £10,000 milling-sized baler. The industry is set up for milling-sized bales of waste, so everyone knows we're serious. We recycle shrink wrap and get £120/t for it.

We get a grant from the Scottish government based on how much raw material we buy from the UK, our attitude to the environment and the uniqueness of our product. For every pound spent, we get 30% back. It's a variable award. The most you can get back is 40%.

Interview by Rod Addy

Factory Facts

Location​: Macsween of Edinburgh, Dryden Road, Bilston Glen, Loanhead, Edinburgh, EH20 NLZ

Staff​: 40 full time, plus five agency

Size​: 1,066m²

Operating hours​: From 5am to 6pm, Monday to Friday

Products​: Traditional haggis and vegetarian haggis in oven-cook and microwaveable versions, plus black pudding. We supply predominantly retail with a strong presence in wholesale and foodservice and only manufacture branded product.

Annual turnover:​ £3.3m


Name​: James Macsween

Age​: 38

Career Highlights​: The launch of the new one-minute haggis microwaveable pack. We were the first British company to use [Cryovac's] microwaveable Darfresh film, as far as I know.

Domestics​: Married to my beautiful wife Kate, with two sons: Charlie, who is three and a half years old, and George, who is just 19 weeks old.

Outside Work:​ I enjoy spending time with my family, going on 10km runs, mountain biking and road cycling (which inspired me to cycle from Lands End to John O'Groats), going to the cinema and eating out.

Related topics: People & Skills, Meat, poultry & seafood

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