It’s not every day the Princess Royal rolls up at a Doncaster pie factory. So one can forgive Roger Topping’s ardour when recounting his company’s recent royal visit – part of a tour of progressive manufacturers in the region. “I was dead chuffed as I’m a royalist,” says MD Topping. “She was brilliant and asked us loads of questions. She even said she’d eaten and enjoyed our pies before.”

Topping is getting quite a taste for celebrity. In 2007, he featured on the BBC’s The One Show in a feature on selling traditional British fare to the Germans and is keenly aware of how positive PR can benefit a small player. He is also aware of how far his company has come in a relatively short period. Toppings started life as a family-run retail butcher before branching out into speciality pies after the BSE crisis ravaged sales in the mid-1990s.

By 2000 the company was selling sufficient volume to justify a new bakery, but its client base remained limited. It was Topping’s decision to target the multiples in 2006 that took the business to a new level. After borrowing what he admits was a small fortune from the bank, he went knocking on doors – a high-risk strategy that clearly worked.

Turnover is now £1.3m a year with customers including Asda, Co-op and Booths stocking pies and quiches ranging from an exotic pork, duck and Guinea fowl to a more traditional chicken and ham variety. “I did have a crisis of confidence when I started supplying supermarkets because of our family-run history but we realised that to grow we needed to get into the multiples,” says Topping.

The pies, which are unbranded and sit on the deli counter, are at the top end of the pies category. In a downturn, convincing buyers to stock an upmarket product is proving a hard sell, admits Topping.

“We had a really strong six months April through September, but in the autumn it went pear-shaped,” he says. “Fortunately, we had a damned good Christmas.”

He remains hopeful that the business will be able to deliver sales growth of 20% to 30% this year but is cautious about its ability to build listings with the multiples as consumers’ discretionary spend falls. Regional listings with Sainsbury's and Waitrose have been put on ice, while a nationwide rollout with the Co-op has been delayed by the Somerfield merger.

Its existing listings could also come under pressure, he adds: “Asda customers are very price-conscious.”

However, there is potential to exploit the weak pound by targeting the export market, he believes. The business has had interest from Dubai and the Czech Republic and recently sent samples to Poland after being approached by an importer. “He took a load of pies back to bounce off the Poles. They thought they were brilliant.”

If all else fails, Topping has a burgeoning niche market to fall back on. “A girl came up to our stand at the Yorkshire County Show one year and said can you make me a three-tiered pie as my wedding cake? We sell about a dozen a year now.”

Who said romance was dead?