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Food and Drink Awards provide access to global retail highway

The banks of Loch Erisort, in the remote Hebridean wilds of the Isle of Lewis, are the unlikely source of Scotland's only sea salt company.

SALT SEASON: Hebridean Sea Salt was established in 2012 but is already seeking funding to build a £900,000 state-of-the-art plant. Picture: Jan Schouten

It's here that natural sea salt is hand-harvested to create pure white crunchy sea flakes that melt in the mouth. The range now includes peat-smoked and seaweed-infused, using only natural local ingredients.

It ticks all the right boxes in an era when local artisan products with a romantic back-story are so on-trend. Getting the message out to the wider world is another matter, however, for many of Scotland's small food business start-ups based in remote areas with little access to the global retail highway.

When she started her company in 2012, young marine biologist Natalie Crayton joined Scotland Food & Drink - a Scottish government-supported organisation unique to the UK, established to help grow the value of the industry to £16.5 billion by 2017 - because she was attracted by the range of dedicated benefits and services membership gave her. These include an Access to Market programme of Meet the Buyer events, presence at exhibitions and trade events; expert advice; and the chance to enter the annual Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards, increasingly recognised as the Oscars of the Scottish food world. This year's awards are bigger than ever, and recognise products in 21 categories.

Hebridean Sea Salt hit the jackpot when it won the Soups, Preserves and Accompaniments category at last year's Awards after just a year of trading. Since then, the product has gone from strength to strength, selling to around 250 stockists across the UK. It will be launching into 400 Co-op stores in April, and Crayton is in advanced talks with three supermarkets and an online retailer. Current turnover of £120,000 is set to grow faster than a seasalt flake.

All of which begs the burning question: will there be enough to go round? Actually, Crayton is in the process of raising £900,000 to build a new state-of-the-art sea salt plant to meet demand.

She said: "I'd urge other businesses, no matter what the size, to enter the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards. Our award brought us real recognition and the kind of publicity you just can't buy."

At the other side of the country, Pulsetta - a new range of gluten-free breads and rolls containing pulses - has also seen business grow exponentially since winning the SF&D Healthy Eating Award last year. Based in Aberdeen, its founder Dr Karsten Karcher has acquired new business premises in Falkirk and Edinburgh, and has been building up the corporate side of his business by appointing a chairman from United Central Bakeries as well as a finance director and six new members of staff. Energy is now focused on raising funds "at the high end of six figures" to facilitate increased production capability for distribution of product across the UK and internationally to the US, Canada, Australia, South America. With a global patent pending in 180 countries worldwide, he hopes to engage some high-profile names in the food industry to back him, though they will not be announced until the spring. Gluten-free breadcrumbs and a range of sweet and savoury biscuits are to be rolled out in coming weeks.

Dr Karcher said: "The visibility and contacts gained through the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards helped us tremendously. I'm one of the organisation's biggest fans, as membership is a key part of our success. I'd say to anyone thinking about entering to just go for it."

l Closing date for entries to this year's Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards is Friday February 28. More at www.scotlandfoodanddrink.org.

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