IT is reasonable to assume that a brand has achieved iconic status when it starts appearing on surfers' websites. So it is with McCowan's, the semi-

legendary maker of Highland toffee.

The website in question proposed the Disposable Anti-Shark-Attack Surfboard, made entirely from McCowan's

Original Highland Toffee - described as ''the ultimate stress test tool for dental


It suggests that if the shark attacks the board, its teeth would be so gummed together that the surfer could make a judicious escape.

The idea was new to the

latest owner of McCowan's, entrepreneur Alan McCafferty. But, as befits an entrepreneur, he said: ''If there's a profit in toffee surfboards, I'll make them.''

His management buy-in to McCowan's in May was referred to and warmly appl-

auded at the Entrepreneurial Exchange dinner in Glasgow last month, on the grounds that it had taken the company back into Scottish hands after 40 years.

As well as continuing to make the toffee and fudge range founded by Andrew McCowan in 1924, McCafferty is also powering ahead with children's chew bars - they now account for 90% of output - sporting names such as Lanky Larry and Lippy Chick as well as the more prosaic Wham, Irn Bru, and Vimto. Vimto, it transpires, is a particular favourite in Saudi Arabia.

The company will turn over (pounds) 7m this year -up from (pounds) 6.5m last time - and expects to increase pre-tax profits from (pounds) 250,000. It employs 70 people and expects this to increase as investment in new lines kicks in.

McCafferty said: ''The

previous owners had invested heavily in the production facility and McCowan's is one of the strongest brand names in Scotland. I saw that what it needed was a strong commercial and sales push.''

The company was started by McCowan, a Perthshire herdboy, who became an agent for a small confectionery firm. He made rock, snowballs, lollipops, and macaroons over a coke brazier until, when the depression was at its height,

he began making the famous

toffee - and selling it in ''penny dainties'' to those of meagre means.

It was sold to Nestle in 1960, briefly held by an MBO team in 1989, and bought by Dutch confectioner Phideas in 1996.

McCafferty, a chartered engineer, came to the toffee business by a circuitous route. He said: ''I was with BP in petroleum engineering, then worked as a consultant, but I wanted to control my own fate.

''I founded an ethnic snacks business - India Foods - with some help from Charan Gill, then got into property and digital CCTV, a venture which didn't work out. But it taught me a few lessons - that you have to have the right team in place and you have to be in control of the processes.''

After researching a variety of companies, McCafferty moved on McCowan's just as the previous managing director was thinking about retirement. He was joined in the (pounds) 3m deal - funded by Clydesdale Bank - by food industry expert Ian Steven, who is now chairman.

He said: ''A lot of our business is to cash and carry stores, but I want to change the customer focus and go to the first- tier groceries, the multiples. We already have a (pounds) 500,000 contract with Asda, and deals are under way with Tesco and Woolworths.

''This is sales from the shelves of boxes of toffees and party packs, not the impulse-buy displays at the checkouts.

''I also want to increase our share in the CTN [confection, tobacco, and newsagent]


He said it has been a difficult trading year, with the good summer weather persuading children to spend on ice creams and lollies instead of chew bars, and said he would consider brand extension into these areas, but not as a priority.