There’s no doubt you’ve seen blue tubs of Mackie’s Traditional stacked up in the freezer shelves of your nearest supermarket.
After all, it’s the fifth largest selling takehome ice cream brand in the UK, beaten only by the international giants such as Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen Dazs and Carte D’Or.
Pretty good for a family-run business which makes all of its produce on a 1,600-acre farm in Rothienorman, Aberdeenshire.
The business continues to expand and diversify, and now has successful crisps and chocolate verticals, and opened its very first ice cream parlour at the end of last year in Aberdeen, marking the next chapter of its growth.
Run by the fourth generation of the Mackie family – managing director Mac Mackie, development director Kirstin McNutt (Mackie), and marketing director Karin Hayhow (Mackie) – the company has records dating back to 1912, when it was operating as a milk retail business.
As demand for full-fat milk began to diminish with the introduction of skimmed varieties, the family started using surplus cream to make ice cream in 1986.
While Traditional is without doubt the iconic Mackie’s flavour, the company has since introduced others that have become household staples – such as vanilla flavour and honeycomb flavour, produced using honeycomb pieces made on the farm.
Today, continuing to innovate with new flavours is a key element of the business plan for the team, and a new product development technologist is employed specifically for this purpose.
‘We need to keep it interesting and innovate a bit in the market,’ says Karin Hayhow, marketing director. ‘So we’re always looking for new flavours and from there, what else we could diversify into.’
A key milestone in the company’s growth and development was the opening of its first ever ice cream parlour at the end of 2017, which Karin says was one of the company’s ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’ or BHAGs.
Named 19.2 because of its location exactly 19.2 miles from the Mackie’s Westertown family farm, the parlour was the first business to open in Aberdeen’s new £107 million Marischal Square development.
The challenge was finding the right way to bring the Mackie’s brand to life in a customer-facing ice cream parlour. Working with designers, the team installed Italian cabinets, a rippled ceiling that changes colour and a TV screen which shows the workings of the farm.
Selling crepes, waffles, hot and cold drinks and of course, plenty of Mackie’s ice cream, the parlour acts as a test ground for new flavours since it provides a quick and easy platform for soliciting customer feedback.
‘I think we can do it well and it gives us room to try lots of new flavours; hopefully it’s a flagship parlour for us. We are making a new range of flavours to experiment with and we’ll learn from that and it might translate back to retail eventually as well,’ says Karin.
Diversifying in terms of products has been another important part of the business strategy and in 2009, Mackie’s went into a joint venture with the Taylor family to create Mackie’s crisps, which have become the company’s biggest export success story, being distributed in more than 50 countries worldwide.
Mackie’s also began making their own chocolate in 2014 in an on-site chocolate factory. As Karin explains, there is plenty of room for expansion of that side of the business, with new flavours and the potential for further development of a gift selection range.
‘We’ve made one batch and we’re learning more so that might develop more widely – that could be a chunky new sector possibly.’
Underlining Mackie’s successful products is its ‘sky-to-scoop’ process, whereby wind provides the power for the farm to grow crops, which in turn feed the cows who make the milk and cream for the ice cream.
Ice cream production requires a lot of energy, but Mackie’s – which has wind turbines, solar panels and a biomass unit dotted around the farm – manages to generate around 70% of their energy using renewables, and are working to improve this further.
Mackie’s also implement a number of other environmentally-friendly methods to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
For example, all packaging is made on-site and the farm’s 330 Jersey and Holstein cows use a voluntary access milking system, which is not only more ethical but cuts down on cattleman costs.
The company are also keen to start producing more of the ingredients for the ice cream and chocolate flavours on the farm, such as tablet and mint.
Being a real living wage employer is another important aspect of the business and Mackie’s managed to scoop the Rural Employer award at the Scottish Rural Awards earlier this year.
Employing 12 staff in the parlour and 67 on the farm, Mackie’s is known for attracting and retaining good talent and even has a plaque on one of the walls of the dairy in honour of Mackie’s ‘lifers’ – staff who have been with the company for 20 years or more.
As Karin explains, it’s Mackie’s aim to become the greenest company in Britain as well as being a Scottish global brand. Exports are becoming an increasingly important part of the business, with the company exporting two containers of ice cream per month to Korea and Taiwan. Karin hints there’s also potential for exporting the company’s chocolate products.
Mackie’s currently produces 10.5 million litres of ice cream per year and the goal is to reach 16 million litres by 2020 – all of which will be made on the original site.
‘We want to at least stay where we are and grow a bit,’ says Karin, who says it will be important to monitor the success of the ice cream parlour, as this is a model that could be replicated elsewhere.