Scotland's dairy sector has met the challenge of hard times with innovative brands and expansion initiatives says Vic Robertson The Scottish dairy industry is showing remarkable resilience in spite of adverse economic conditions which have led to the exodus of dozens of primary producers and the closure of one creamery in the past year. Improved service and wider ranges have ensured that rationalisation has been kept to a minimum and while Robert Wiseman Dairies continues to slug it out with Express for the liquid market, under the shadow of a Competition Commission probe, product and packaging innovation have also sustained interest. Not surprisingly, in its interim report the CC found the East Kilbride based Wiseman Group ­ with a share of the Scottish liquid market estimated at 83% ­ was operating a monopoly. It now has to decide whether this is against the public interest, with a final report not expected before November. In the meantime, Wiseman continues to expand into England ­ one of the major bones of contention with Express Dairies which led to the referral ­ with milk from its Manchester depot being delivered to London daily and a new £30m plant at Droitwich due to come on stream next March. Among its latest launches has been a new breakfast milk, Fresh & Creamy, with a double cream booster bringing the fat level up to 5%, and sold in one pint cartons with distinctive yellow splashes on the familiar black and white packaging, initially through Asda. This was followed up at the beginning of August with its first foray into the organic market with the raw material coming from the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative in southern England, initially for doorstep and corner shop sale in central Scotland but eventually rolling out to Manchester and beyond. Sales of the low fat product Fresh n' Lo have continued to grow by around 4.7% week on week recently, aided by the introduction of a new user friendly screwtop carton. Fresh pasteurised orange juice has also been added to the product portfolio. "We have a number of other new ideas up our sleeves such as limited edition promotional runs in the next few months," says contract sales manager Alan Russell. Over at Express Dairies, products for the Scottish market have been getting a tartan makeover. The Scottish Pride range supplied into the Central belt combines the familiar thistle logo with a new tartan giving the brand a fresh but traditional look, while the tartan of its Highland Fresh brand, targeted at the northern half of the country, has been given deeper colours. The visual identity is also enhanced by the uniquely shaped 500ml polybottle for both semi skimmed and whole milk. One and two litre polybottles are also available, the former in semi skimmed and whole, and the latter in skimmed, semi skimmed and whole. The bottles also feature the Scotland the Brand logo. Nick Goss, marketing director at Express, says:"Since their launch, the brands have been very well received and both have growing customer bases. Research indicates that our customers feel strongly about supporting Scottish enterprises and react very positively to the fact that our milk comes from Scottish farmers." The milk is processed at Claymore Dairies, a modern facility based at Nairn, in which Express has a 51% stake with the remainder held by a farmer co-operative. Ian Larg, chief executive of Claymore, reports "an active year" for the group which has seen the floating of its Orkney operation into a separate co-operative with the backing of A McLelland & Son, Scotland's biggest cheese company. Further backing for the manufacturer of the famous Orkney cheese has also come from Orkney Islands Council, the local enterprise company and the EU with the aim of building a new £5m production and storage facility at Kirkwall to replace the existing 45 year old plant. Construction is due to get under way later this year. Alastair Irvine, joint md of McLelland, has become something of a white knight for the Scottish cheese industry with the company making substantial investments in remote or island plants bought from receivers at Campbeltown, Arran and Bute, as well as pumping cash into its Caledonian Cheese Company in Stranraer. "Scottish consumers are more brand loyal and tend to focus on regionally produced cheese while those in England are more likely to go for own label generic products such as Red Leicester," he says. A slight exception to this has been the company's great success story with its Seriously Strong Cheddar brand, which has just been repackaged with the backing of a sexy advertising programme and continues to grow on both sides of the Border, accounting for about 25% of the company's sales of up to £180m at retail level. The company was unable to save the Islay cheese creamery which closed its doors in spring following a "make or break" bid for commercial freedom from Scottish Milk, the co-operative successor to the Scottish Milk Marketing Board. However, Scottish Milk chairman John Duncan delivered an upbeat message for the future at its recent annual meeting following the success of its processing arm, Scottish Milk Dairies, which has just launched Low and Lite, a blend of semi skimmed and butter milk. This is seen as part of a realignment of the group and its culture. Glanbia's cheesemaking plant at Lockerbie in the south west may be regarded as a bit of a "sleeping giant" but continues to turn out massive amounts of product for Safeway, Somerfield/Kwik Save and Asda. The range shows little or no change but packaging is due for a change from stick to wedge shape. Among the smaller players, the Aberdeenshire based Mackie's of Scotland goes from strength to strength with its premium ice cream range, with 19% growth in business last year giving it a 38% share of its market in Scotland and 8% in the UK. It has invested £400,000 in upgrading its plant and has introduced a number of new products. Among these are a two litre Cream of Scottish vanilla dairy ice cream pack as a new entry to the every day family market; a handheld, chocolate coated Mackice and a take home four pack of mini tubs. It has also given up sourcing organic milk from Austria in favour of a local supplier, resulting in cost savings and ensuring lower prices. {{SUPPLEMENTS }}