What makes a great Scottish brand? It’s not an easy thing to put your finger on. The most successful and fondly thought of brands, though, invariably tap into some aspect of what it is to be a Scot, and they also have a hard-won reputation for producing food and drink enjoyed across the country. Scotland's favourite brands certainly tick these boxes; their unique histories and dedication to quality – not to mention some innovative marketing – have made their successes last.
Irn-Bru is 116-years-old, but it’s no stick in the mud. Its cheeky, irreverent adverts have pushed the boundaries of good taste – to the consternation of some – over the years, but the humour, which is as bright and lurid as the soft drink itself, has always struck a chord. Initially called Iron Brew, the name was changed to its present form in 1947 to avoid falling foul of food regulators. Second only to whisky as Scotland’s national drink – or so said a long-running AG Barr campaign in the 1970s – the fizzy orange brew is a staple of many fridges across the country.
Scott’s Porage Oats
Scott’s Porage Oats boxes carry the image of a Highland shotputter wearing a white vest and kilt; it’s an iconic sight on Scotland’s supermarket shelves. Scott’s Midlothian Oat Flour, ran by brothers A & R Scott, began production in Glasgow more than four decades before the shotputter was incorporated into its packaging in the 1920s. If you’re wondering about the company’s unique spelling of porridge, then that’s a marketing trick: to distinguish themselves from their rivals, they combined the spellings of “porridge” and “potage” – a French word for a thick soup – and ran with it from 1914 onwards. It is one of Scotland’s most popular porridges, and its Cupar mill produces more than 60,000 tonnes of oats annually.
In a crowded marketplace, distiller Glenfiddich has distinguished itself by making what is now the best-selling single malt whisky in the world: its 12-year-old single malt. Based in Dufftown, the firm was founded by William Grant in 1886, and has remained a family enterprise ever since. As with many whisky distillers, it has adhered to old-school values when it comes to producing its whisky, but its international success is testament to how widely appreciated the Speyside single malts are.
Valvona & Crolla
Valvona & Crolla, established in 1934, is an Edinburgh institution. It is Scotland’s oldest delicatessen, and has been the capital’s premier specialist food shop with a reputation that now extends far beyond its Leith home. Run by the Contini family, you’ll find fine cheeses, a peerless wine selection, fresh bread and pastries baked on the premises, and fruit and vegetables imported from Milan, among other things. Several spin-off businesses bearing the Valvona & Crolla name include foodhalls in two Edinburgh department stores and on the banks of Loch Lomond, and a cafe and a restaurant split across two floors in the capital’s Multrees Walk shopping district.
Tennent’s says its beer is Scotland’s favourite pint. It’s hard to say otherwise. There are few supermarket shelves and bar taps that don’t bear the famous red T, arguably Scotland’s most iconic logo. With the recent arrival of the craft beer phenomenon, it’s fair to say that Tennent’s has taken a hit – and beer purists tend to turn their nose up at it– but it remains a part of the fabric of Scottish life. Pubs, clubs, and shops stock it, and Scotland’s biggest festival, T in the Park, is named after the lager. It won’t be going away anytime soon.
Robert Wiseman Dairies
Robert Wiseman founded his eponymous dairy in 1947, trotting around East Kilbride in a horse and cart delivering milk in cans. Since then, the firm – which, three years ago, was taken over by German food giants Muller – provides almost a third of all the UK’s milk. Its ubiquity is uniquely unimposing, but it has a lot to shout about: it was the first company in the UK to introduce semi-skimmed milk via its Fresh ‘N’ Lo brand, and had, by the 1970s, taken advantage of a shift from door-to-door sales to wholesale markets to become the hugely successful company it is today.
In most shops, you’ll find three or four of the following Tunnock’s products: Tea Cakes, Caramel Logs, Caramel Wafers, and Snowballs. Everyone has a favourite, but the Tunnock’s Tea Cake cemented its place at the top of the podium last year after it became part of the opening ceremony of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Tunnock’s packaging evokes an idyllic nostalgia, which is no surprise when you consider the company has stayed true to its roots. It’s still based in Uddingston – where it was founded in 1890 by Thomas Tunnock – but the firm now employs 550 people, a reflection of its status as a purveyor of the nation's favourite treats.
Baxters has made jams and soups for over a century, but it’s the soups, popularised by Ena Baxter in 1952, that have really defined the company. Traditional recipes with a Baxters twist – cock-a-leekie soup and Scotch broth, among other flavours that became more exotic over time – proved phenomenally popular, with customers in places as far-flung as the Middle East and Japan enjoying her gourmet soups. Meanwhile, Ms Baxter’s regular TV appearances in the 1970s, where she would project a homely charm as she tended to soup in the kitchen, helped to revive public interest in Scottish cuisine.