Haggis conquers the world

MENTION haggis to an Englishman and he may mutter something about a small, hairy creature sighted on Scottish moors during the shooting season, writes Nicola Barry.

Mention haggis to a Scotsman and he might just close his eyes and whisper "Macsween" - the name of a family business which has built an international reputation for producing the Scots' national delicacy.

But after half-a-century of trading from a small shop in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh, the Macsweens have opened the world's first purpose-built haggis factory, just off the city bypass at Loanhead. The family has shut up shop, leaving its haggis on sale at a few other established outlets while it concentrates on building a wholesale and export business.

The new factory employs 15 in summer and about 30 during the busy winter months. Its owner, John Macsween, whose father, Charles, started the business in the Fifties, said of leaving the shop in Bruntsfield: "It has been very sad - I practically grew up in that shop. It definitely feels like the end of an era ... although the excitement of planning a factory has helped to take my mind off it. I was worried about the enterprise at first ... mainly because so many people poured cold water over our plans.

"We're just a family business, and starting up a factory is very daunting. But it is all beginning to come right. We're achieving very good sales figures. They are already up 25 per cent on last year, and our annual turnover is now just under pounds 1m."

The family's special recipe is jealously guarded, and Mr Macsween will say only that his raw ingredients consist of lamb offal and beef fat - cooked, minced, mixed with oatmeal, onion and seasoning, and stuffed inside a "natural" skin.

"We export haggis all over Europe but the export market is peanuts compared to the UK market, which accounts for 99 per cent of our trade. We're supplying every city in Britain."

"Haggis is much more widely known than it used to be. I don't think there's a hotel in Scotland that doesn't have it on the menu. Visitors to Scotland love to go home and say that they saw pipers in kilts and drank whisky and tried haggis. I don't think it's true that our shortbread- and-tartan image is despised. In fact we've a lot to be proud of in this country."