Case study: Island Bakery Organics
Can you tell us a bit about your business?
We’re a small family-owned organic bakery in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, specialising in organic biscuits. We have a staff of around 40 in total, so whilst we are one of the larger employers on the island, in the world of food production we are a minnow! We play to our strengths, by focussing on quality, provenance and the honesty of a little brand that does what it says on the tin – we are an organic bakery on an island, so Island Bakery Organics we are!
Sustainability and environmental issues are very important to us, not just because of the part of the world we come from, but because the environmental impact of food production is a major challenge facing the entire industry. So as well as using only organic ingredients* in everything we make, we also take advantage of the one resource that is in abundance on Mull – clean renewable energy. We are the only biscuit manufacturer in the world doing all our baking in wood-fired ovens. The woodfuel comes from the managed forestry that covers much of Mull, and as well as being a carbon-neutral cycle, gives the biscuits a slow and gentle bake.
* – OK, there is one exception! Isle of Mull Cheese from our family’s farm right next door to the bakery.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learned over the last few years?
Growing a business is hard work! The pandemic has obviously hit us hard – some of our largest customers were airlines and food-service operators, and they simply vanished last year. But we weren’t without challenges even before that – we recently moved away from larger-scale own-label production for a major multiple, and it has taken some time to build back from that. In the long-term it is absolutely the right thing to do, but it’s painful in the short term. In business you have to be looking years ahead, and focus on your unique strengths – that is something that has been very true lately.
And what opportunities are you looking forward to grasping in the coming years?
We have lots of new and exciting products that we spent 2020 developing, just going to market now. We are entering the savoury biscuit market for the first time, with a range of delicious cheese biscuits; oatcakes made with olive oil, and gifting tins. We have also launched a new brand – Sweet FA Gluten Free. It’s a range of really exciting and delicious cookies that our coeliac product developer Fiona Aitali has created. (That’s what the FA stands for of course!). We’re looking forward to growing both brands in the coming years, and finding new markets both at home and abroad.
What is your favourite thing about Scotland’s food and drink industry?
Scotland has a fantastic reputation for the quality of its produce, and it is well deserved. I particularly admire the small producers who innovate and have real stories to tell, and who are in the food business because they get immense satisfaction from producing the best, the tastiest, the most enjoyable food. There is nothing better than putting a smile on someone’s face when they eat something you have made.
Why is it important for consumers to support Scottish producers?
Our home market is our most important, and buying from as close to home as possible is a good principle to follow. The Scottish food industry is one of the country’s most valuable and vibrant – from the farmers to the processors and retailers – and a supportive home market is invaluable to keeping it that way. Particularly for new and small producers, the home market is key. But we will only succeed if what we offer is competitive and good value for money, so Scottish producers have to earn that loyalty.
Finally, how are you celebrating this Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight?
By eating and drinking Scottish food and drink of course!