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A year of Covid-19: ‘Mackies is the second-fastest growing ice cream brand in the UK just now, only second to Ben & Jerry’s’

Mac Mackie.
Mac Mackie.

While the past year has been incredibly challenging, one of Scotland’s leading ice cream firms has continued to build its empire little by little.

As the country’s top-selling premium ice cream brand and fifth-biggest-selling take-home tub in the UK, Mackie’s of Scotland is a success story in its own right.

Operating from the Mackie’s family farm in Rothienorman, Aberdeenshire, ice cream has been made at the premises since 1986 and the company has faced many challenges throughout its time.

However, none like what the coronavirus pandemic has thrown at them.

Karin Hayward, Mac Mackie and Kirstin McNutt.

Run by the three Mackie siblings Kirstin McNutt, Karin Hayward and Mac Mackie, the business has been resilient through these unprecedented times, with staff having to adapt to new regulations, new products in the works, and not forgetting export and Brexit challenges.

However, perseverance has paid off for the company which makes more than 12 million litres of ice cream a year and supplies all major supermarkets in the UK.


In the year ending May 31 2020, Mackie’s of Scotland saw its revenue increase 1% to £16.7m and operating profits increasing 61% to £3.4m. Its chocolate sales increased by 46% after recipe refinements helped secure further supermarket listings and buyer loyalty.

With a 37% growth in ice cream sales according to Kantar Worldpanel data, Stuart Common, sales director at the firm, says while the past 12 months has been like no other, the firm is doing well despite losing its foodservice business overnight last March.

Stuart Common.

He said: “The foodservice side of our business – restaurants, hotels, Edinburgh Zoo, Blair Drummond Safari Park – they obviously all closed with many remaining closed throughout so it has been quite sad as those sales just stopped. His Majesty’s Theatre, the Music Hall and The Lemon Tree are all big sellers of Mackie’s, too, so it has meant our foodservice sales have ground to a halt. Similar to our Mackies 19.2 ice cream parlour, which is open for delivery at weekends just now, until it reopens.

“The positive is the fact that people are buying more at supermarkets and online for eating at home which has really helped us. From a retail perspective, ice cream sales have gone through the roof recently. That has continued into the pandemic and heightened during the longer lockdowns.

Ice cream being made.

“Mackies is the second-fastest growing ice cream brand in the UK just now, only second to Ben & Jerry’s. People are looking more to local products and Mackie’s is local to the majority of people who live in Scotland so we’ve seen a lot of support in that circumstance.

“Sales are up quite a bit in comparison to what we’d normally expect with the chocolate, although not as much as ice cream. The sales for our honeycomb chocolate, it is up 40% at the moment.”

Exporting and Brexit

With Asia being Mackie’s biggest export market, Brexit hasn’t been as big an issue to the company as other food manufacturers. However, the knock-on effects of Brexit on the supply chain continue to cause problems for the ice cream and chocolate firm.

Exporting to 10 countries, the traditional and the honeycomb flavour are favourites abroad.

He added: “Export sales have been pretty much the same as last year. For us, we were trying to get product to China and Japan for their summer, which, broadly speaking is similar to ours. When we think back to 2020. It takes around six weeks to get product to those countries.

Mackie’s traditional.

“The pandemic started in these countries earlier than us as we were locked down in March whereas they were locked down earlier. Once they were starting to come out of it we were in lockdown and managed to get the product over to them.

“Brexit hasn’t had as much of an impact on us as the majority of our exports aren’t to Europe. There’s a lot of knock-on effects because of transport, getting shipping containers and that sort of thing, but it didn’t directly affect us.

“It is a lot harder when you’re exporting as there’s extra paperwork, different things you need on labels, translations, and all the other protocols that need to be adhered to.”

Teamwork makes the dream work

With the team increasing by around 10% according to Stuart, it has been their hard work and dedication which has seen the company through these unchartered times.

“We now have roles that didn’t previously exist, like Covid-19 cleaners,” said Stuart.

“We have always had high hygiene standards, as you have to working with food and drink, but it was more the office side of things; doors, pens, tables and that sort of thing all need vigorous cleaning, too.

A member of staff packaging chocolate.

“Everyone has really had to embrace new work practices like wearing masks. The staff are having to wear them throughout their working day and there’s been so much change at a time where sales have been particularly strong.

“We’ve had to rely on a lot of people to do a lot of things and work a lot of long hours. That’s when I think the cultural stuff Mackie’s has done over the years like the fact everyone gets a present from the company on their birthday, or you get long-service recognition, or a profit-related bonus, all helps when you need the staff – they feel a lot of warmth to the company.

“We’ve definitely increased our headcount over the last year. The parlour staff are doing less, but a couple of them now work in the factory, and we’ve added more people. There’s also the odd person who has had to shield. I’d say we’ve increased by 10%, but it has been challenging with two-metre distancing.”

Low carbon refrigeration project

A £4.5m low-carbon refrigeration system that will become one of the most advanced in Europe is now also underway at Mackie’s HQ.

The first in Scotland, the project was awarded support, with a grant of £2.05m, from the Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme alongside significant investment of over £2.5m by the firm.

The new refrigeration system is an ammonia-based low carbon and energy-efficient cooling system with an absorption chiller. The plant provides the temperatures needed for production of the ice cream, and ice, with dramatic efficiencies on the former system; achieving up to an 80% reduction in energy costs and CO2 emissions.

Ice cream in production.

Mac Mackie, managing director of Mackie’s of Scotland, said: “With our system we’ll utilise an absorption chilling system which will be fed with heat from two biomass boilers. The hotter you go the colder you can run your factory or cold stores. Over 80 to 90% of our refrigeration requirements will be supplied by these boilers. Our electricity usage should drop by 80%.

“It is coming on in different phases. We’ve installed a central ammonia refrigeration plant and that’s already running our cold stores and liquid chilling. That is much more efficient. The absorption chilling system will be on in around three months. By June or July the bulk of the project will be complete.

“It will make us 100% self sufficient in renewable energy and we’re already carbon positive. We produce more renewable energy than we use and when it is sunny and windy we’re selling the excess, but when there isn’t, we’re having to buy it in. It is hard to store enough, although ultimately that would be our aim. However with this project out overall usage will be much, much less and there will be very few times we’re buying in. We want to be able to come off grid.”

Mac Mackie.


With wind turbines, solar panels, and numerous other sustainability projects on the go, Mackie’s has continued its commitment to the environment despite the pandemic.

Mac added: “We produce our own milk so no milk is transported – it is just pumped across from one side of the farm to the other. We make our own packaging and we’re using our wind electricity to make it on-site.

“We make our own added ingredients like honeycomb and sauces on-site, too, and then we have the biomass boilers. Some of that heat will directly heat the factory for pasteurising and washing, so that will come from a renewable source. We also have solar power, both a solar farm and solar panels on the roof.”

New branding

And a new era of Mackie’s is on the horizon with a rebrand being rolled out from April. This is its most comprehensive rebrand in 30 years as it looks to seize a larger share of the UK’s ice cream market.

Karin Hayhow, marketing director, added: “It feels almost familiar immediately. One of the objectives was to increase sales and attract more shoppers across the UK, particularly in the south. We want the tubs in the supermarket to show what is distinct and different about the brand.

Karin Hayward.

“The year before last we did quite a lot of research and in stores speaking to shoppers. We trialled a draft design and learned what we should do. The research gave us three sacred cows; keep the blue, keep the tub shape and keep the diary maid and cow.

“We started again with a new marketing agency last year and came up with the final design. It has a fresh, modern look, but is still recognised as Mackie’s. It is a big change for us and we’ll launch our new website come April. The new traditional tub, which is still out biggest seller, will be out in April.

“We’ll also be launching a new brand look for autumn for the chocolate range, and we’ve got another mix of the packets of four mini tubs coming out soon, too.”

The new branding for traditional.

Looking forward

Launching a new ice cream flavour in Scottish supermarkets, chocolate orange with honeycomb is the latest addition to the Mackie collection.

And while the future is looking bright for Mackie’s Karin, Mac and Stuart all appreciate how fortunate the business has been during the pandemic.

Karin said: “The new flavour was the first in the new branding and is now in stores. It is just in Scotland for now. I guess our product happens to be a treat and that really resonated with everyone when we were in lockdown.

“It is brilliant how adaptable people are. With new rules coming in every day we used to have what we called ‘cobra’ meetings. A year on we’re much more used to it. We’ve used Microsoft Teams so much more to hold meetings which has been interesting, so the fact that we can still move things on has been great.

The new chocolate orange and honeycomb flavour.

“We’ve made new products, increased sales and the guys on production had some record days having rejigged and moved things around. There’s been a lot of hard work to keep things going. I am also really looking forward to getting back to the farm when I can.

Mac added: “We have been very fortunate. It has been horrendous for a lot of businesses and we’ve been fortunate enough to not have an outbreak in the factory which has been good as we’ve kept everyone apart as best we can. Our sales have also been very strong, which has put pressure on us and it has been a pretty stressful year, but it has also been a successful year for the company, too.

“We have been growing and are investing in the brand. The staff have worked so hard and we’re grateful that our customers continue to buy our products. We are looking forward to foodservice reopening and getting our products out to even more customers.”

For more in this mini series…