A FAMILY firm that specialises in high quality packaging for the whisky industry is targeting sales of £20m by 2020 after investing £1.5m in the business over the last two years.

Port Glasgow-based McLaren Packaging was set up in 1979 by James John McLaren – a 20-year veteran of the former Bowater paper and packing group – to supply corrugated cases to the whisky industry. It has since grown from five to 140 staff across three sites in Port Glasgow and Stirling. Pre-tax profits in 2015 were £1.56 million on turnover of just under £15m.

“We’re one of a few independent Scottish companies supplying the UK drinks sector and we’re quite proud of that,” said James’s son Michael McLaren, who is sales and marketing director. Mr McLaren, 32, runs the business with his brother Donald McLaren, 37, who is managing director.

“We feel there’s a real opportunity to grow and our target is to reach £20m turnover in the next three years. Scottish produce has a great reputation globally and we want to try and support producers as they grow their business all over the world.”

The company is completing the final stages of a £350,000 investment in Blue Box Design, a Stirling business it acquired in 2013 for a six-figure sum. The company specialises in hand-made presentation boxes for the whisky industry, but also has clients across the luxury food and textiles sectors.

“We’ve grown the business by about 80 per cent since we purchased them in August 2013 and that’s been a result of the ongoing success of Blue Box Design’s existing customers and the introduction of McLaren Packaging’s customers,” Mr McLaren said. “We’ve invested quite heavily in the business in quite a short period of time to support its growth. This has involved purchasing automatic box wrapping equipment, digital cutting tables, installing a mezzanine level to increase storage and material handling space and a revamp of the office and factory floor. We’ve even put in special LED lighting to assess the quality of these hand-made boxes.”

The investment has doubled staff numbers at Blue Box Design from 20 to 40.

In Port Glasgow, McLaren invested another £375,000 last December installing 300 solar panels above its composite tubes factory, which makes metal and card tubes for individual whisky bottles. This followed an £800,000 investment in 2014 to extend the factory’s storage and loading capacity.

The company invested another £250,000 in 2014 in its ‘muticell divisions’ operation, which makes the corrugated dividers that slot inside cases of 12 or 24 bottles.

“We’re really here for the long term and we feel there’s real opportunity for growth in premium drinks and premium products,” Mr McLaren said. “My father started this business and we’re in the middle of succession from the first to the second generation. My brother joined the business eight years ago and I joined in February 2015. Our father is 80 years old this year and is taking more of an advisory role in the business. He’s a bit of an industry veteran and keeps us all on his toes – he’s the first in and last out. My brother’s background is in engineering and mine is in sales and marketing, so between the two of us we’ve got the dynamic to take the business forward and grow it – and that’s reflected in the continued investment in people, equipment and facilities.”

McLaren’s other products include corrugated cases for 12 or 24 bottles, decorated rigid boxes for malts of 21 years and above, card multipack holders and solid board boxes for wholesale products such as meat, fish or poultry.

“We’ve positioned ourselves as a one-stop purchasing destination for the UK drinks industry,” Mr McLaren said.

Sales in the latest financial year were 7 per cent ahead of last year, he added.