Scotland has become a key battleground for the multiple retailers over the past 12 months, with all of the top four stepping up their relationships with Scottish food suppliers, forging Scottish buying units and setting up dedicated Scottish offices.

Tesco has been demonstrating mounting support for Scottish produce since the formation of its dedicated office in Bathgate, West Lothian, two years ago, and the retailer further affirmed this when it hosted the inaugural Enjoy The Taste of Scotland showcase at the Edinburgh Hub in April. The three-day event brought almost 100 of Tesco's Scottish suppliers together under one roof, enabling consumers and the media to enjoy a culinary tour of Scotland complete with a celebrity cookery theatre.

Sarah Mackie, Scottish senior buying manager, says: "Scotland's larder is full of first-class culinary heroes. However, they are not always very good at self-promoting, and that's where Tesco can help."

Meanwhile, Sainsbury's, which sources more than 1,000 products from local suppliers and plans to double that number by the end of the year, has also taken steps to crank up its relationship with Scottish food suppliers by opening its own dedicated buying unit. James Laws, regional buying manager, says the food sector in Scotland is exciting, with producers demonstrating a track record of producing high-quality and innovative products. "By working more closely with producers, we will be able to get more Scottish products on to Sainsbury's shelves."

A spokesman for Waitrose, which also has a dedicated regional buying team, agrees that this is an effective approach. "We continue to engage with the Scottish food industry and give the wealth of great Scottish food and drink a new platform," he says.

"We have sourced more than 500 new products in Scotland and aim to add to this through the regular 'meet the buyer' events we attend."

David Rae, marketing manager for Scot Trout & Salmon, which is number 34 on our list of the Top 50 Scottish food and drink companies, says this is a great encouragement to smaller suppliers, who can gain access to the mainstream market, and to consumers, who can gain access to speciality products: "With the creation of local sourcing teams across the multiples, it is clear that they are now allocating more time and resources to this area."

The innovative and dynamic companies making up this year's Top 50 give strong clues as to why the multiples are so keen to grab a larger slice of the Scottish pie.

The table (right) provides a snapshot of the industry, and the overwhelming majority of companies on the list are showing impressive growth rates.

Keeping it in the family has proved to be an important factor in the success of many of these companies. Baxters, for example, a family-run operation that has been producing soups, preserves and condiments since 1868, has risen one place to number 13 this year, with sales up from £85.2m to £98.5m.

Other highlights include shortbread and biscuit specialist Walkers Shortbread, which has fused Scottish provenance with innovative flavours such as oatflake and heather honey. It has risen three places to number 20 with a 13.6% sales uplift.

Whisky companies also put in impressive performances. Distillers William Grant & Sons retained the number five position but showed further sales growth of 3.2% year-on-year to £339.5m.

Seafood companies continued to perform strongly. Scot Trout & Salmon's sales soared from £29.2m to £34.5m, while Marine Harvest's sales rose from £61.1m in 2004 to £71.6m in 2005. Whitelink Seafoods has shot up seven places to number 43 following a sales increase of 15%.

There is plenty more to come from this sector, according to Libby Woodhatch, chief executive of Seafood Scotland. "The move towards improved fisheries management, market development and ever-increasing demand among consumers is a good indication that there is a bright future ahead for a sustainable seafood industry in Scotland," she said.