Pile of potatoes with soil on(c) Rob McDougall

Combining the skills and expertise of two Scottish farm businesses allowed them to launch a new premium range of potato crisps.

The outcome of talks between the two parties was Mackie’s at Taypack, which now has an annual turnover of £5.2m, with crisps sold in 20 countries. The business and is on target to reach £20m by 2020.

The crisps are made in Scotland following a “plough-to-pack” philosophy that gives the product the provenance and quality consumers are demanding, says managing director George Taylor.

See also: All-year-round vegetables thrive in Scotland

“We’ve been able to use Scottish potatoes to produce a premium crisp product – something that wasn’t on offer before,” he adds.

“It’s important to have a pipeline of varieties. We’re looking for types that are suitable for crisping, but that are also easy to grow and help overcome some of the agronomic challenges farmers are up against.”
George Taylor, Mackie’s managing director

“As a result, the crisps are now available in all the UK supermarkets except Marks and Spencer, and have also developed a customer appreciation in other parts of the world,” Mr Taylor adds.

The venture brought together Mackie’s of Scotland, an Aberdeenshire-based family business known for its luxury ice-cream, and another family business, Perthshire-based Taypack Potatoes.

Together, the two businesses had the skills to get the enterprise up and running within a fairly short timescale, moving to a new factory and 4.5ha production site between Dundee and Perth in 2013.

A gentle cooking method, based on thermally heated oil and continuous frying, is used, reveals Mr Taylor.

“It gives a less oily, drier texture and the end result is a crisp with a potato taste and a definite crunch,” he adds.

High-oleic sunflower oil is an important constituent of the frying process. “We have tried replacing that with rapeseed oil, but it doesn’t work. The final product isn’t as good,” he adds.

“Our two mainstay varieties are Lady Rosetta and Lady Clare, both well established crisping varieties. But we are working on introducing new crisping varieties and we have one called Mistay, which is currently in national list trials.”

For this reason, a £60,000/year investment is made into a potato breeding programme, which is run by the James Hutton Institute in Scotland.

“It’s important to have a pipeline of varieties. We’re looking for types that are suitable for crisping, but that are also easy to grow and help overcome some of the agronomic challenges farmers are up against.”

While some of the Mackie’s crisp flavours are traditional, others bring a Scottish feel to the range such as haggis and whisky.

“Canada is one of our best overseas markets, but others are catching up fast. Our most recent market gain is China,” he says.