AMID uncertain times for the economy we hear from one of the young companies whose success has encouraged hopes for the prospects of Scotland’s key food and rink sector.

Name:

Mark Davidson and my wife Jacqueline Davidson.

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Age:

40 and 39 respectively.

What is your business called?

Aye Love Real Food.

Where is it based?

Kilwinning, Ayrshire.

What does it produce?

We produce an award winning range of free range, rare breed, Scotch Eggs as well as sausage rolls and other savoury products.

To whom does it sell?

We sell direct to customers via high profile food events all over the UK and through a growing number of retailers and food outlets.

What is its turnover?

£300,000 plus.

How many employees?

Four full time (two directors and chefs) and one part time.

When was it formed?

We started in 2014 and formed a limited company in November 2016.

Why did you take the plunge?

I was made redundant from my previous job and felt it was the right time to start a family business with my wife. Jacqueline was working in insurance in a job she did not enjoy and was looking for a new venture which would not only be profitable eventually but enjoyable. Over the years we had often talked about starting our own business and as we both have a huge love and interest in food it seemed obvious to start a business within this sector. We both decided it was now or never. We realised we had some fantastic free range pork and egg producers on our doorstep and tried a few different recipes with these. After a trial at a local farmers market we discovered we were pretty good at making scotch eggs and have since developed a full range showcasing the best in Scotland’s larder.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I spent 12 years working as operations manager for two award winning entrepreneurs, Neil Mackay and Richard Starrett, and managed their start-ups in various sectors. These included Beautiful Vending, Boxer Fun and Charge Candy. I gained experience in starting high turnover companies from scratch; from conception to funding and rapid growth. This gave me the perfect skill set and confidence to start our own business and has allowed us to grow quickly.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We were self-funded and got help from close family.

In recent months we’ve had invaluable help from Business Gateway as well as the economic development team at our local authority North Ayrshire. This has helped us secure the funding needed to support investment in growth through Clydesdale Bank and the West of Scotland Loan Fund.

What was your biggest break?

Winning the BBC Good Food Show Bursary in 2015. This gave us fantastic PR and the chance to showcase and sell our product at a prominent food event in Scotland.

What was your worst moment?

There were one or two events in the first year that we massively over estimated our sales at and we naïvely over extended ourselves and got stung. The trickiest part of selling food at events is working out the correct quantities to make, especially as ours is perishable. The first year of trading was just one giant learning curve in this aspect and it is probably one of the most important skill sets we have developed.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The excitement of never knowing what is around the corner as you don’t know what the next call or email will bring. Last winter we provided our Scotch Eggs at two days’ notice for the party of an A-list celebrity (Justin Bieber) as well as stocking the official hampers for the British Open golf tournament. This year we’ve had two of our most exciting leads yet.

What do you least enjoy?

Accounting paperwork, mainly due to time restraints.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Bad weather. A storm can cost us thousands in lost sales over a weekend of events and can often come with little notice or be worse than expected. Since starting the company I have spent an unhealthy amount of time studying various weather apps on my phone.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To continue to grow turnover and profit while expanding more into a wholesale business.

What are your top priorities?

Additional kitchen staff; complete production kitchen refurbishment; growing the retail side of the business; consolidation of the events side of the business to maximise profit; expansion of the events portfolio in England.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Whilst we have had support on a local level from Business Gateway and North Ayrshire Council on a range of issues including marketing and rebranding, we do feel that assistance at a national level to help young food companies like ourselves meet the criteria to supply national multi-site customers is needed. There are so many accreditation, logistics and cash flow challenges along with what can be lengthy time scales. Support here would be invaluable and allow Scotland to showcase its world class food.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Well motivated staff with a strong work ethic and the correct skill set are invaluable.

How do you relax?

We are a busy family business with a one-year-old daughter and four-year-old son so any quiet time is relaxing. We also relax by eating good food with family and friends, both at home and out.