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Scotland's Larder: Karin Hayhow of Mackie's of Scotland

We talk about what it is like working with family and about growing up on the Westertown Farm with Karin Hayhow of Mackie's of Scotland.

Published: June 29, 2021

Karin Hayhow of the family firm Mackie's of Scotland, tell's me she's "chavin away." (an Aberdeenshire expression for just doing away.)

Mackie's is a well known family run business from the north east, which is famed for producing dairy ice cream amongst other products.

Family ties

The business is currently run by three siblings from the fourth generation: Karin Hayhow, Marketing Director, Maitland Mackie known as Mac, who is the Managing Director and Kirstin McNutt, Product and Development Director.

Siblings; Karin. Mac and Kirstin at Westertown Farm

The siblings are all relatively close in age and Karin explains, "we are like each other in someways, but we are different characters.

"Believe it or not we do all generally get on and we have done since we were kids.

"Maybe we are too nice to each other, but we always separate work and family. If we are all together for the weekend or a meal, then we don't talk about work.

"If you are at work that is what your conversations are about, although it might be more relaxed, as you feel at liberty to say what you like to your brother and sister."

Northern lights

As well as having roots firmly planted in Aberdeenshire, there is also a family Norwegian connection.

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Karin explains, "our mother, Halldis, was from Nesttun in Bergen.

"She came to Scotland to study medicine and met dad at Aberdeen University when she was the 1958 Charity Queen."

There weren't enough places to study in Norway so she came to Scotland, promising her parents that she would return.

Instead she met Maitland Mackie and married him before becoming a local GP.

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Growing up on the farm was fun, Karin said, "because there are always places to play outside and explore."

Westertown is the 1600 acre farm of Mackie's
Westertown is the 1600 acre farm of Mackie's

Both her parents were keen on the outdoors, so she said, "we would get hauled up mountains or a bit of dinghy sailing. Mum being Norwegian, brought skiing in when we were about three."

"My mum and dad bought a cottage, near Bergen, it is a part of the lifestyle over there to spend weekends at the hytte, and we still own it and it has engendered a love of Norway in all the family."

Spending power

As children they were also encouraged to earn spending money, she said, "I think that was dad's natural way of doing things."

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"So we would help with milking or we would organise friends to come out in the October holidays to pick tatties."

Other job options included, roguing barley or potatoes, she said, "it pays quite well in the end for doing that.

"Mum and dad were relatively strict, mum was quite well known for being very matter of fact."

School days

Initially they were schooled locally only four miles away from the farm, she said, "in the old days my dad and his siblings had to walk but we got the school bus."

She then went to Inverurie Academy before going to Rugby School in England to do A levels.

She said, "I enjoyed some of it, it was very different, it was still really a boys school.

"I started a bit of a trend because Mac went to Rugby and my sister Kirstin, went to Gordonstoun."

"With hindsight we were brought up and encouraged in a positive way that you could just go and do anything."

Mackie's icecream
Mackie's icecream

After school she went to study law at Edinburgh University, her brother Mac also studied law at Aberdeen.

Karin admits, "neither of us really enjoyed being lawyers."

After she finished her two year law traineeship, she worked abroad with her husband Robert in Fiji.

Relative values

The family are descended from a long line of farmers with a tradition of calling their eldest son Maitland Mackie.

Karin fondly remembers her grandparents.

Karin explains that her grandmother Isobel died before they were born, but their grandfather, then married Pauline, a cattle ranching Texan, who he met when he went to the States looking to buy cattle.

She said, "she was quite a character, I enjoyed their company."

Mackie's of Scotland, 'taste the real dairy difference'
Mackie's of Scotland, 'taste the real dairy difference'

Christmas on the farm was always a big deal.

She said, "my dad is one of six, so Santa would come to visit the farm.

"What I didn't realise was that it was my grandapa who would dress up, and go to great lengths both for the family and the staff Christmas party.

"He would come through the roof or he would be on a sled, once someone even abseiled off the top of the silo tanks."

Mackie's icecream
Mackie's icecream

Another Norwegian tradition also saw them opening presents on Christmas Eve.

She admits, "in later years that is quite handy, we are at our house for Christmas eve and my husband's families house on Christmas day and everyone is happy."

One of the difficulties with any long term business is when you change from one generation to another.

In 1986 a surplus of cream from the dairy, saw their father diversify and start making ice cream.

When her father was still in charge of the company, he would quietly come up with a suggestion or an interesting way that his children could come and work at Mackie's.

One of Mackie's of Scotland, four wind turbines
One of Mackie's of Scotland, four wind turbines

She said, "when we all came back I don't think it was secret that he was delighted, but there was no pressure."

Their father also planted 10 per cent of the farm land in trees, and introduced a small wind turbine and he was a pioneering farm innovator.

The green practices started by their father have been expanded by the next generation of Karin, Mac and Kirstin.

Green and clean

They have seriously got into windpower, investing in four full-sized turbines, biomass and 10 acres of solar panel fields and more on the factory roof.

Mackie's powered by nature including, 10 acres of solar panels
Mackie's powered by nature including, 10 acres of solar panels

Karin said, "this year sees another major step change as we are replacing all the old refrigerant with a natural ammonia gas, which has zero climate implications.

"Additionally we are installing a large biomass system, to use for our refrigeration via an absorption tower."

It is a 4.5 million pound project, and the combination of all the measures makes it is a first in Scotland, with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by up to 80 per cent.

Karin said, "it will be an exemplar for future refrigeration for other Scottish businesses, so we have been awarded a grant from the Scottish government.

"Currently 70 per cent of Mackie's runs on our own renewable energy, but the goal is to be 100%, so we are getting there."

They already produce 4.5 x the energy that they need, with excess renewable electricity going back into the grid.

Frozen

The ice cream is still made on the family farm, and uses fresh whole milk from their 300 strong herd of Holstein cattle.

Traditional is still their best selling ice cream, it has no added flavours not even vanilla.

Karin said,"it is really creamy, we keep innovating with different flavours and we have our own ice cream parlour in Aberdeen."

Mackie's of Scotland, make icecream
Mackie's of Scotland, make icecream

Ideas factory

At Mackie's they are always looking ahead to the next big idea with the company's, Big Hairy Audacious Goals

They have diversified into both crisps and chocolate.

Karin explains the thought process behind it, "Is there something else we can make ourselves? is it something we can grow or make on the farm? is it a product that noone else in scotland is making, at least on a large scale?"

They carefully researched people's thoughts about Mackie's branded potato crisps but Karin said, "we got good feedback."

Mackie's of Scotland
Mackie's of Scotland, make icecream, crisps and chocolate bars

It is a joint venture with the Taylor family who are potato farmers and processors, she said,"we had the brand, retail, sales and marketing experience but they knew much more about growing potatoes than we did."

The decision to make chocolate and honeycomb was more straightforward, as they use the ingredients in their ice cream.

Karin said we saw an opportunity, "as no-one else was making high quality bars for supermarkets in Scotland."

Logo and launches

They launched their online chocolate shop earlier this year, she said, "so consumers can purchase directly."

Also this year has also seen a logo and packaging refresh for their tubs.

Mackie's of Scotland diversified into making a range of chocolate bars
Mackie's of Scotland diversified into making a range of chocolate bars

Karin said, "half of our sales are down south, so we felt consumers were less brand aware than they are up in Scotland. We are one of the top five ice cream producers in the UK but the other four are massive."

Mackie's have a smallish team of 80 staff and Karin said, "I think sometimes people think we are bigger than we are, it is a nice thing because people like working for us and tend to stay with us for a long time."

She is currently in the process of planning a summer campaign 'discovering the dairy difference', which highlights the taste between real dairy ice cream in comparison to others which don't.

Over the past few years they have also built up an export business sending ice cream to, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, America, China and Japan.

Karin said, "we now have significant overseas sales and we have a good foundation to grow from there."

They are planning to grow their share of ice cream sales in this country, which will see a new flavour launch towards the end of the year.

They've also recently partnered with Visit Aberdeenshire to create a new limited edition ‘Majestic Aberdeenshire’ ice cream flavour, available in the Mackie’s 19.2 parlour in Aberdeen city centre.

Mackie's of Scotland diversified into making a range of chocolate bars
Mackie's of Scotland diversified into making a range of chocolate bars

Future's so bright

The next big thing is getting the next generation involved, Karin said, "my son is actually going to start to work at Mackie's and my two nephews are finishing university are and getting to an age where they might want to come and join the business, so that is quite good fun."

Whatever happens next, the family ethos will always be good Scottish quality ingredients and a great taste,

Karin Hayhow Marketing manager of Mackie's of Scotland
Karin Hayhow Marketing manager of Mackie's of Scotland

Mackie's of Scotland

Westertown
Rothienorman
Aberdeenshire
AB51 8US

01467 671466  

• READ MORE: Scotland’s larder: Euan Cameron from Pittormie Fruit Farm

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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