PATERSON Arran extended its lead in the branded shortbread market in Great Britain in the latest year, research has revealed.

The West Lothian company yesterday highlighted research, by consumer sector specialist Kantar Worldpanel, showing Paterson Arran enjoyed a sharp rise in its share of a fast-growing shortbread market in the year to January 5.

Paterson Arran's share of the branded shortbread market, which excludes the own-label products of supermarkets and retailer Marks & Spencer, climbed to 46.6% in the year to January 5. This was up from 42.4% in the prior 12-month period.

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The West Lothian company, which employs about 130 people at its Livingston bakery and headquarters and around 20 staff on the Isle of Arran, achieved a 31.7% rise in sales to £11.4 million. It noted this was ahead of 26.2% growth in sales of Marks & Spencer shortbread.

Taking the overall shortbread market in Great Britain, including the own-label products of supermarkets and Marks & Spencer, Paterson Arran raised its share to 14.9% in the year to January 5 from 12.9% in the prior 12 months.

Marks & Spencer is the leader in the overall shortbread market in Great Britain. Its market share rose to nearly 25%, from about 22.5%.

Closest to Paterson Arran in terms of share of the domestic branded shortbread market are Burtons and Deans, with respective sales of £2.27m and £2.22m in Great Britain, according to the Kantar Worldpanel figures.

Allan Miller, sales and marketing director of Paterson Arran, attributed the hike in his company's sales to growth in the market and to maximising the number of outlets in which the firm's shortbread is stocked.

Paterson Arran's shortbread is stocked by supermarket groups Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, and Morrison, as well as by discounter Aldi and convenience stores. According to Kantar Worldpanel, 11.9 million people bought shortbread in the year to January 5.

This was 669,000 more than in the preceding 12 months. The value of the shortbread market in Great Britain in the year to January 5 was put at £76.8m, up by 14.9% on prior 12-month period.

Paterson Arran, which is owned and managed by Alan Hardie and Ian Appleton, was the subject of a buy-out from Scotch whisky distiller Edrington in 1995. Edrington retained a small stake in the business.

The West Lothian company can trace its roots back to 1895, when it was started by John Paterson and his wife, in Rutherglen.