?Breaking new ground by supplying branded products to the meat and cheese counters of Sainsbury has enabled North Highland Products, helmed by John Strak, to grow rapidly
By using a Mey Selections brand logo showing the Castle of Mey, once home to HM the Queen Mother, and sourcing produce within a 100-mile radius, the Caithness-based company believes it has established a point of difference on retail cold counters. From its core offering of prime beef and lamb, and then cheese, NHP has added oatcakes and whisky to its range, and has plans to add fish, shellfish and oysters next month.
The company was set up by a group of 12 farmers following Prince Charles' launch of the North Highland Initiative, one of the aims of which was to encourage the sale of quality food and drink from sources in the Scottish Highlands. It was formed in August 2005 and began trading two months later, gaining valuable initial publicity when it obtained the Prince's permission to reproduce a watercolour he painted of the castle, which is six miles west of John O'Groats.
Until then, high-quality local produce was being farmed and sent south but without any identifiable link to its place of origin.
"I wrote in my feasibility study that there was room in the marketplace for more branded products because the premium food and drink market is growing," said Mey Selections MD Dr John Strak.
"People want provenance and they want a way of identifying it, so you need a brand. It's true to say that we couldn't have achieved what we have at the same speed without branding. Provided people have rising incomes, they are inclined to look at the label. A label represents a story, and that appeals to people with discernment."
The company approves and then licenses suppliers to produce particular products within the designated territory, and has won awards for its ribbed beef and Highland Blue cheese. "We might even try for PGI status next year, using our name and the clearly defined territory and traceability," said Strak.
Turnover in the first months of trading last year was £1.2m, and that is expected to rise to between £4-5m this year. So far, NHP has been happy to deal solely with Sainsbury's, supplying all of its products to 23 stores across England, mainly in the south east.
However, it has won a contract to supply the retailer's Taste the Difference meatballs to 200 stores across England, specifying Mey Selections beef in the on-pack ingredients. There are also plans to list Mey Selections products in Sainsbury's Scottish stores.