Haggis: Sales of Scotland's national dish soar with US poised to lift import ban

The savoury dish made from sheep's heart, liver and lungs may be shedding its traditionally unpalatable image

Revered and maligned in equal measure, haggis has always had a tendency to divide diners. But as people across the world prepare to sit down to steaming dishes of spiced sheep offal in celebration of the birth of Robert Burns tomorrow [MON], the future of Scotland’s national dish has never looked brighter.

Sales of haggis are booming across the UK, with the dish increasingly appearing on menus in top restaurants and at street food stalls as well as people’s shopping trollies as it gradually sheds its traditionally unpalatable image, according to the nation’s biggest manufacturer of the dish.

James Macsween, the managing director of Macsween of Edinburgh, said his company had seen sales increase by more than 500 per cent since it moved its headquarters to a factory on the outskirts of the Scottish capital 20 years ago. 

The haggis manufacturer, a family-run firm founded in 1953 by Mr Macsween’s grandfather, has seen sales of its traditional and vegetarian varieties rise from 235 tonnes a year when it arrived at its new base to 1,554 tonnes by the end of 2014. And with the United States poised to lift its 45-year ban on haggis imports, a hungry new market is about to open up.

“Haggis has grown massively in popularity,” Mr Macsween said. “It’s in more shops and is eaten more often – England is our biggest market, with 60 per cent of our orders going south of the border. In the colder months of the year it just flies out of the door. It’s great that it’s enjoying such a resurgence.”

Mr Macsween and other Scottish haggis manufacturers are already looking at the possibility of ramping up production amid signs that the US will shortly lift its longstanding ban on food products containing sheep lungs, a key ingredient of the dish. New draft rules on imports are set to be published within months.

Having travelled to the US last year with a Scottish Government delegation to meet officials from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Mr Macsween said he was “very confident” that the ban would be lifted by the end of 2017 at the latest.

“The prospects of getting haggis into America are the best they’ve ever looked,” he said. “The steer back from the USDA and APHIS was positive that at the very worst, it would be November next year. We’d love to capitalise on that market, it’ll be huge for us as we’ll see a huge increase in sales. It’ll be great for the industry and for Scotland.”

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Food Secretary, has said he is “hopeful” that the rules on imports will be changed by the end of this year, which would unlock a “potentially massive opportunity” for haggis producers and farmers as around 10 million US citizens claim Scottish heritage.

In the meantime, manufacturers are trying to give improve the dish’s summer appeal by creating ranges of haggis-enriched beef burgers, sausages and meatballs. Marks & Spencer has also added it to croquettes and pies, while street food outlets in London and Edinburgh serve haggis toasties, burritos and savoury bon-bons.

“Haggis has a bit of chequered reputation, it’s a bit like Marmite at times. But one of our jobs is to convert people to the benefits of haggis, and once they’ve tried it they rarely say ‘Oh I don’t like that’,” Mr Macsween said. “It’s like any product that people have misconceptions of – not everyone likes the idea of mussels or oysters or scallops, but once you’ve tried them you see they’re delicious.”

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