Lifting the lid on the best-kept secret in Scottish chilled food
When John Simpson founded a butter-packing business in Methil, Fife, in 1957 no one could have predicted the journey he and his company were embarking on.
From its origins as a supplier of “quarter pound prints of butter”, Fife Creamery soon grew its offer to include a wider range of dairy products and, in the 1960s, would become the first company in Scotland to introduce a fleet of chilled lorries.
Those expansions were just the beginning.
In the early 1970s, John’s son, John Jr (Jock) would take the reins of the business, determined to diversify its offer even further.
“Jock’s arrival was a real springboard for Fife Creamery,” recalled sales director Steve Appolinari, who was recruited into the business by Jock in 1985.
“He had the vision to expand the range and to build a new premises. He was also far-sighted enough to buy a large piece of ground in Kirkcaldy and, as a result, since the early ‘70s Fife Creamery has extended four times on that same piece of land.”
In the decade that followed, Fife Creamery branched outside of its dairy heartland to offer customers a wider range of chilled products that included cooked meats, salads and patés.
‘Chilled food’ was a new term in the market at that time, and Fife Creamery led the way in establishing what is now a staple of food retail.
“The two contracts wholesalers were interested in were dried goods and frozen,” said Steve. “So there was a bit of preaching required. The whole idea back then was encouraging customers to see the future. ‘You’ve got lots of freezer space, but you’re soon going to have lots of chilled space’.”
And in the 1980s, the changing face of Scotland’s retail industry, as supermarkets became a larger part of the landscape, saw the business evolve again, moving into the food service sector for the first time.
Now supplying chilled products to a growing customer base that includes pubs, restaurants and hotels as well as cafés, take-away outlets, coffee shops, further education, the NHS and contract caterers, Fife Creamery had grown its product range even further, ensuring it was able to offer this diverse range of businesses the right package of chilled products for them.
“One of the core successes of Fife Creamery is our ability to listen to the customer,” said Steve.
“When we moved into the foodservice sector we carried a wide range of retail products. We had to do a lot of listening, to say ‘what do you see as a product that fits the catering market?’
“We’ve done that ever since, and as we’ve gone to these markets we’ve had customers telling us ‘your portfolio may need X or Y’ and that’s allowed us to go back to our manufacturing partners and ask a variety of questions of them.”
Today the company stock-holds more than 3500 short-shelf-life food lines, from cakes to sandwich fillings, antipasti to pizzas, cooked meats and cooked poultry to fresh soup and premium soft drinks.
Significant experience and expertise is employed in ensuring these products are kept fresh and of the highest quality, while the firm’s next-day delivery ensures customers are never kept waiting.
“The chilled range has come of age,” said Steve.
“It’s a very mature market now. We’ve seen an enormous number of competitors try to do what we do, we’ve seen a lot come and go, because they don’t realise the complexity of dealing with a wide range of short-shelf-life products.
“How do you make this work? With experience.”
Product range, stock management and delivery aren’t the only areas where the company’s experience is a factor. Of Fife Creamery’s 20 sales staff (ten field sales and ten telesales), five have been with the company for at least 28 years.
The result, said Steve, is the business has a track-record of building lasting relationships with its customers.
“If tomorrow I was opening a coffee shop, a bistro, whatever, I would be delighted to know someone out there can give me testimonies,” he said. “That’s exactly what we can do.”
Now, in its 60th year, the company continues to evolve at a great pace.
A recent, £1 million upgrade to its warehouse has allowed the company to expand into frozen food as well as increase its ambient range of snacks and drinks. At the forefront of local sourcing for all of those 60 years, Fife Creamery has always promoted the benefits of Scottish provenance; numerous successful manufacturers started out in collaboration with Fife Creamery.
Looking to the future
As it celebrates 60 years in business, Fife Creamery is looking to the future with a new exhibition.
The company’s 60 Year Food Exhibition will take place on May 3 at Keavil House Hotel, Dunfermline, giving customers and potential customers the chance to meet with suppliers, see new products and learn about the big food trends of 2017 and beyond – including the impact of healthier eating and the growing popularity of snacking and food-to-go.
Sales director Steve Appolinari said: “We’re going to be unveiling a range of new products, new eating trends, various concepts and introducing some new equipment solutions that can make these products come to life quickly. We’ll be showcasing all of this and more on Wednesday May 3.”
“From humble beginnings we grew together, we don’t just talk about building Scottish partnerships in the food industry, it’s what we have always done,” said Steve. Further investment in technology will see the introduction of online ordering in the near future.
And the company is determined to continue to add to its product range and improve its offer.
“As this market’s got more refined, more sophisticated, more demanding, we’ve got more products coming in under the chilled banner that are convenient, food safe, but quality-oriented,” said Steve.
“That’s one of our aims going forward: to continue to ask the industry ‘what would help you?’ Or to speak to manufacturers to find out the latest trends in London, Ireland or New York.
“That’s the beauty of our business. We’ve been doing this so long we have a grasp of what might work and what people might want.
“But we’ve also got a fantastic range of customers that keep us right.”