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Sweet smell of optimism at jam maker R&W Scott

EVEN though the general economic environment may be a bit uncertain there is a sense of forward momentum at jam maker R&W Scott.

NEXT IN LINE: John Easton took over as managing director of R&W Scott last year, but his involvement within the South Lanarkshire firm stretches back years. Picture: Mark Mainz
NEXT IN LINE: John Easton took over as managing director of R&W Scott last year, but his involvement within the South Lanarkshire firm stretches back years. Picture: Mark Mainz

After years of creaking along the factory at Carluke is being spruced up with a six-figure investment in a new plant, people and facilities.

Among all that is an American-style diner cafeteria for the 50 or so people who work there, while additional machinery will open potential new product lines and improve efficiency.

Managing director John Easton officially took over in April last year but had been working on a plan to run the firm – established in the 1880s as a preserve maker of locally-grown Clyde Valley fruit but now part of the listed Real Good Food Group – as a separate business unit for months before that.

Easton had already been at R&W Scott for six years and has spent his entire working life in the food industry so could see there was a chance to do something interesting.

He said: "There was a big opportunity for change. It is fair to say the business here has been under-invested with not an awful lot of support and it was not core to the wider group.

"We presented a business case that said we want to operate an autonomous unit.

"Being part of the wider group mains we still retain all that expertise and a pull on the resource in areas like technical, finance and human resources.

"The commercial strategic direction for this site is decided from here though and that very much fits into the Real Good Food model anyway."

Previously R&W Scott had been bundled together at Real Good Food with Liverpool-based baking ingredient firm Renshaw.

As a separate entity, Mr Easton hopes to almost double turnover to £25m in the next three years and turn a large loss from the financial year to March 2012 into a profit.

He said: "We have a heavy investment plan for a business which lost the fat side of £800,000 last year.

"We are in profit [this year] which is good and although we have some pretty ambitious targets we are making positive strides towards them.

"When you start talking about that level of growth some of it is speculative but everything is set up correctly.

"The brand is right, we have the right people in the right places and the company heritage and standing is in good order.

"We see the growth in the market in things like home baking so it is not an unrealistic target and we certainly have the capacity in the site."

Part of that strategy has involved a corporate rebranding while Mr Easton and his team have also identified a number of new product lines.

At the moment the bulk of material made in Carluke is chocolate covered coating which is sold to bakers and catering companies.

Mr Easton says that side of the business "pays the bills" but there is little value which can be added.

That is why he is focusing on jam and other spin offs.

A premium preserve and marmalade range under the R&W Scott badge was launched in Tesco stores last year while the value range Scotts, sold in Asda and used by several food service businesses, is also being rebranded.

New product development is progressing with a naturally sweetened jam range containing no extra sugar available soon.

Mr Easton said: "We have a history and heritage which is extremely important. We want to lever that but not rely on it as we want to contemporise things.

"We need to fill a need for whatever market we are in. In retail we want to be value for money but we don't want to be a stack them high and sell them cheap business.

"It needs to look premium and taste premium but still offer value for money."

While jam production is predicted to treble Mr Scott is keen to produce different products for different industries.

He said: "For our retail jams we want to provide a different product than for food services.

"We have some exciting things coming in food services, particularly targeting the airlines. Innovative products that we think are environmentally sound, cost efficient and provide competition to what is already available.

"In food service we see people selling standard jam in big tubs to catering and we think we can do a better job.

"You take those same products and twist them round a little bit more and produce something for large manufacturers.

"At this point you are then starting to become a scale business which allows us to improve our purchasing power, offer better value and keep growing the business."

Although jam will remain a "key building block" Mr Easton is keen for the R&W Scott name to become more widely known for other products.

To that end a range of sweet sauces – toffee, butterscotch and chocolate – will be launching soon while cake mix and savoury sauces are also being considered.

Mr Easton said: "We have excellent interest from the big four supermarkets in the sweet sauces. "They are actually chasing us for development samples which is a good place to be and there is a decent sales opportunity there as the door is open.

"The reputation we have had in the past is good and it helps us but we have to make sure we remain relevant and that is what we are striving to do with the products we are developing now."

Exporting forms another part of the growth strategy with plans to tap into the experiences of other companies in the Real Good Food Group.

Mr Easton added: "Having a Scottish brand and Scottish providence is a good thing for exports as we think Scottishness travels."

Factfile

BrotherS Robert and William Scott started their jam making and preserve business in Carluke in the 19th century.

The last of the Scott family involved in the company is thought to have retired in the 1980s and J&W Scott is now part of the Real Good Food Group which includes ingredient maker Renshaw, sugar trading arm Napier Brown, Garrett Ingredients and Haydens Bakery.

John Easton started at Express Foods as a management trainee initially placed in the cheese manufacturing hall at Lockerbie Creamery.

After that he had spells in quality assurance, waste and environmental and became department manager in charge of by-products.

After six years he left to join a smaller dairy which is now known as Rowanglen, in Newton Stewart, as production manager.

A desire to move back to the central belt saw him take a role in an animal feed business at Bathgate in West Lothian where he progressed to factory manager.

Next was a role as planning and materials control manager at Grampian Country Foods in Cambuslang.

After three years there he moved to R&W Scott where he has been production manager, operations manager and now managing director.

He is married with three children and enjoys watching football.

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