WITH Scotland’s food and drink firms planning to create 18,000 jobs over the next five years the sector is set to become an increasingly important driver of the economy. By: MARK WILLIAMSON
In this week’s SME Focus we see the kind of contribution entrepreneurial food and drink firms can make in rural areas.
What is your business called?
Yester Farm Dairies Ltd.
Where is it based?
Gifford, East Lothian.
What does it produce?
Soft cheeses, milk, cream, cultured creams and mozzarella.
To whom does it sell?
A range of customers from local doorstep deliveries to Sainsbury’s.
What is its turnover?
How many employees?
When was it formed?
Why did you take the plunge?
After studying Estate Management at Napier University I came back to the family farm at a time when milk prices were volatile.
I was frustrated at the lack of control the farm had selling its raw milk to large processors and felt the family business needed to be able to return a more consistent price for its produce. Processing our own milk on the farm was one way to do that so that is the path we as a family decided to take.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
I always worked on the family farm – before and after university.
My wife Jackie was a lawyer working in-house for a landowner representative organisation (Scottish Land & Estates).
How did you raise the start-up funding?
I started with as little capital investment as possible by getting the milk contract-processed and bottled off site. My wife and I used our savings to put in a small cold store and get our first refrigerated lorry.
Once we had built up a bit of a market for our products locally, we had the confidence to invest further. The farm was fortunate to get Scottish Government rural development funding when we installed our own milk processing plant in 2003.
When we converted the grain shed into our new cheese room in 2015 we had help from Scottish Enterprise as well as significant bank borrowing.
What was your biggest break?
Having a supportive family. My parents and brother were fully supportive of my wife and I from the start and allowed us to take over significant parts of the farm yard for the Yester Farm Dairies business.
What was your worst moment?
There have been many!
The worst was probably three months after starting the business when Jackie had a serious car accident and was in intensive care in Livingston hospital but I had milk to deliver and invoicing to do. The business could have folded before it had even started at that time if it wasn’t for family support.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Having control of mine and my family’s destiny. You can make your own decisions and plans and there’s a real sense of satisfaction when it all comes together.
Working at home has its advantages too and I get to see a lot of the children even though I work long hours.
What do you least enjoy?
In some ways it’s the same as the things I most enjoy!
Having control of your own destiny means you have no one else to blame if it goes wrong and working at home can be a bit suffocating as staff and customers think I am on duty 24/7.
What is your biggest bugbear?
Connectivity. Broadband speed and mobile coverage are without a doubt the things I complain most about! The business is totally reliant on the internet but the quality and speed of connection at the farm is a constant problem. Equally there is no mobile coverage in the yard which you can imagine creates all sorts of problems when trying to run a business.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
To be a successful, socially responsible and profitable family business; for the brand to be synonymous with premium quality dairy products and great service; for our customers to be proud to buy our brand; to ensure our staff are proud to work here and to have an ethos of continuous improvement in everything we do.
What are your top priorities?
Making the best products in the market; providing excellent customer service levels; training and growing our staff’s skill base; growing our sales UK wide and beyond; Increasing brand awareness.
What single thing would most help?
High speed broadband!
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
Continued funding for some great work that both governments are already doing in terms of promoting Scottish and British food, such as Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight which runs from 2nd – 17th September.
Local sourcing in public procurement would also be helpful, as would assistance with funding, and, of course, rolling out high speed broadband across the whole country as soon as possible.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
Trust your instincts. Over the years I’ve found that my gut instinct about people and situations has generally been right and if trusted could have avoided a host of headaches. You need to listen to advice from experts of course, but don’t ignore your first impressions.
How do you relax?
Family time with the kids. I really need to be away from the farm to relax properly and we have started going on a family ski holiday every winter which is a great way for us all to spend time together without the risk of anyone getting bored!
Source: Herald Scotland