Macsween of Edinburgh – Scotland’s National Dish Made with Passion
Macsween of Edinburgh, a third-generation family company, has been at the forefront of haggis and black pudding making for nearly 70 years.
Macsween’s haggis, voted the best haggis by consumer panels and a consistent winner of numerous quality awards, has been made the same way ever since its beginnings in the 1950s, when the founder, originally a bookkeeper, opened the first Macsween’s butcher shop in Bruntsfield. He was soon joined by his son, John Macsween, father of the current Managing Director James Macsween.
“My father joined the business when he was just 17 years old and he really was the spearhead for taking the business from a small butcher’s shop to a larger business. He was also instrumental in the creation of the first vegetarian haggis as early as the 1980s,” says James Macsween.
He explained that in line with his parents’ ambitions, the company moved to the next level, focusing on a small portfolio of products only, and transforming from a ‘High Street butcher’s shop’ to a ‘haggis specialist’.
In addition to seeing the potential for vegetarian products ahead of his time, John Macsween also embraced the latest technology along the way, first installing vacuum packing which gave the product a longer shelf life, introducing bar codes in the early 1980s and moving fast into automation, all investments that allowed the brand to evolve and led to the opening of the world’s first dedicated haggis factory in 1996.
Macsweens, today employing some 50 people, can now justifiably claim to be Scotland’s most prominent manufacturer of haggis, with their product widely available throughout the UK and as well as in international markets.
James Macsween says: “Over the years, the family has invested a huge amount not just of money but also of emotion. The business became part of the family, our way of life – it is now nearly 70 years old and I’m set to make that at least 100 years.”
Handicraft to family recipes
Macsween’s authentic and award-winning haggis is handcrafted to unique family recipes, using the finest ingredients. Reaching into the convenience market, both meat and vegetarian haggis, with no change to the original recipes, are also available in microwaveable packs.
“Traditional haggis represents a large part of the business these days but we have developed several new variations, such as the Delicious Every Day range, which is the same recipe but in a more cost-effective casing. This enabled us to be more price-competitive in supermarkets, today our most important sales channel,” says James Macsween.
The portfolio also includes black pudding, vegetarian haggis and Scottish veggie crumbles, a product developed for the US market. The vegetarian haggis, currently accounting for about 20% of total sales, has been a hit from the start. It is approved by the Vegetarian Society and is also suitable for vegans, thanks to John Macsween’s foresight to use palm oil.
So what is so unique about Macsween’s haggis? According to the company, it is ‘simply lamb, beef, oats, onions and spices, nothing more, nothing less’. But James Macsween explains that what makes the product special is also the fact that their haggis is more like from a traditional butcher’s shop. “We don’t use liver and our special mix of seasonings gives the final product a distinct, fine flavour. Our manufacturing process is also slightly different.”
As pioneers of Scotland’s national dish, Macsween’s are passionate not only about the product but also about the way it is made – in an environmentally and ethically sustainable manner.
“I have put a lot of effort into making the business as green as possible, generating the smallest environmental footprint. To this end we have become landfill-free as one of the first in Scotland, we source ingredients as locally as possible and have always tried to have a product with the minimum of packaging,” affirms James Macsween, pointing out that Macsween’s haggis has just a single label on it, and products that are sliced are packed in clear films that are 100% recyclable.
The focus on sustainability has intensified during the pandemic. “Over the last few months, we have introduced an innovative package redesign that improves our sustainability. We’ve reduced the size of both our original and vegan-approved vegetarian, 454g and 227g packs to 400g and 200g which has, in turn, allowed us to make the pricing more competitive for our customers,” he says.
“Not only does this change mean that people are purchasing a more sustainable product, it potentially also reduces food waste with a lower chance of people cooking more than they need. We use 75 per cent less packaging on average compared to other haggis brands while our business is 67 per cent locally sourced. In addition to this, we were also the first haggis brand to use RSPO-certified palm oil in our products, which ensures it has been sustainably sourced.”
An iconic piece of Scotland
Macsween has truly internationalised the Scottish national dish. In addition to England, its products are available in Europe, with Germany being the biggest market, Canada, USA, UAE as well as in Singapore.
“We are always looking at growing the business and can see demand increasing. We are achieving good results in Canada and the US, where we started to export our veggie crumble earlier this year and have high expectations of both markets.”
With its diverse portfolio, the company has not been severely hit by Covid-19 but some impact will be felt. “We have spent a considerable amount of money on adapting our site and making sure the workforce stays safe. Our workers are of paramount importance to us; no machine automation can replace the skills of the haggis maker and of those who manually complete the product.”
James Macsween expresses the same recognition and gratitude to the company’s suppliers, who are an integral part of the company’s success. “We have strong relationships with our suppliers. They are our trusted partners, and without them, we would not be where we are today.”
Given its position and reputation, Macsween of Edinburg is set to continue the family tradition. “After all these years we are still privately owned, continuing to grow by making the best haggis in the market. There are not that many people in the world who can say that they have based their success on making their country’s national dish. With Scotland being such an iconic country, being part of making one of its iconic products gives me tremendous pleasure,” James Macsween affirms.