We hae meat has grown from a farming foundation to become one of the nation’s leading brands in the supply of butchery to supermarkets, as founder Alex Paton explains.

What is your business called?

We hae meat Ltd, which is one of the four businesses my wife Carlyn and I own and run as part of our Cairnhill Holdings group of companies.

Where is it based?

Cairnhill Farm in Girvan in South Ayrshire.

What does it produce/do? To whom does it sell?

We hae meat is a butchery business supplying products to supermarkets across Scotland.

It is one of a portfolio of businesses within our holding company that also includes a farming enterprise, a renewable energy company, and land and estates.

Our product range includes square sausages, burgers and black puddings, in traditional and reduced-fat options.

We also supply a few high-quality hotels and restaurants in the west of Scotland with our prime cuts, such as sirloin and fillet steaks, under our Cairnhill Farms brand.

What is its turnover?

Over £11 million (year ending May 2023) but I tend to focus on what we’re left with at year-end rather than what turnover is.

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How many employees?


What were you doing before?

I’ve been farming for more than 30 years. My wife Carlyn and I founded We hae meat in 2007, both as a diversification of the family farming enterprise, and to fulfil the Patons’ long-held ambition to establish a brand and a direct route to market for our quality beef.

What do you least enjoy?

Uncertainty, whether it be raw material pricing volatility or labour availability.

You can’t plan for uncertainly, you can only react to it. With hindsight, it was a major factor in our decision to diversify our farming operations and launch We hae meat.

What do you consider to be the main successes of the business?

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We hae meat began as a modest high street butcher shop, and we’ve expanded and diversified the business in the 17 years since, transforming it into the much-loved Scottish food brand it is now. The brand was ranked as one of the fastest growing by Kantar last year.

I’m also proud to be one of the early adopters in our industry of generating renewable energy and ensuring we are as environmentally conscious as possible. We self-generate 100% of the heat and 90% of the electricity required to run our manufacturing site.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We want to grow and evolve the business, expanding our product ranges and bringing our high-quality, affordable meat products to more consumers nationwide.

We’ve made substantial investments over the years to embed environmental sustainability into our operations, including installing a combined heat and power plant and solar panels, and transitioning our delivery fleet to hybrid plug-in vans.

That’s allowed us to achieve net-zero status and we’re continuing to innovate and work with partner organisations to find new ways to make our business more sustainable and bring benefits to our community.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

Dig in and never give up. What makes Carlyn and I a great team is being able to work together to find solutions to any challenge. Very little in life that is worthwhile comes easily so we’ve also learned that it’s also important to take a step back sometimes and celebrate the successes when they happen.

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What was your best moment?

In 2014 – we were being stocked in national supermarkets, gaining shelf space in a very saturated market. And, just seven years after establishing the business, we were awarded a spot in the top 50 consumer brands in Scotland, coming in at number 39 as the highest new entry that year. Today, we rank in the top 20, which we are immensely proud of.

What has been your most challenging moment in life or business?

We kept our operations running throughout the pandemic, changing operating guidelines, and consumer demand, which was 400% our usual supply, made for a very challenging period for the business. Inflation has also brought about big challenges for us, with the cost of raw materials skyrocketing. Beef prices rose by 70% in just one quarter in 2022, packaging costs went up by 40%, and essential ingredients like wheat, flour and rusk increased by 35%.

How do you relax?

By spending quality time with our three kids: Jake, Harry, and Daniella. I also take a lot of enjoyment from getting out onto the farm with the livestock and taking in the beautiful environment we live in. While I try to switch off, like any business owner I always find myself planning for the next project or development. But I don’t think of this as work – it’s more like a hobby to me.

What phrase or quotation has inspired you the most?

That would have to be Robert Burns’s Selkirk Grace, from which our business takes its name: “Some hae meat and canna eat/ And some wad eat that want it/ But we hae meat and we can eat/ Sae let the Lord be thankit.” The simple joy of sitting down to a home-cooked meal and doing what we can to give back to our community is what our business is all about.

What is the best book you have ever read? Why is it the best?

When I was 12 years old, I bought Four Wheels to a Fortune, which helped me understand the basic premise of trading from a young age. So much so, I was buying and selling sweets and toys in the playground soon after reading it. Sadly, the teachers were not so supportive of my entrepreneurial spirit and my first suspension from school was triggered by them catching me writing up my sales ledger in class when I should have been studying geography!

Where do you find yourself most at ease?

On the farm with my family.

If you weren’t in your current role, what job would you most fancy?

I enjoy my role so haven’t ever thought about alternatives. I sometimes think it would be great just to go back to my farming roots and not have all the other additions and pressures but, in reality, I know I would be frustrated and would be starting a new project within a week.

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I’ve not done a huge amount of travelling. I’m really happy at home and farming is a full-time commitment so it is sometimes hard to find the time. However, when we do get the chance to get away the whole family enjoys Florida. Perhaps, if I’d paid more attention to geography than my sales ledger in school, I would have been more inspired to travel.

Interview by Ian McConnell