Haggis champion hits the big 60

Macsween is celebrating its diamond anniversary. Company director Jo Macsween shared a few gems with Jen Bowden

Jo Macsween, director and haggis ambassador for Macsween, with the firm’s haggis as well as the vegetarian, canapé and microwaveable versions.
Jo Macsween, director and haggis ambassador for Macsween, with the firm’s haggis as well as the vegetarian, canapé and microwaveable versions.

CUSTOMERS sitting in Costa Coffee on the corner of Bruntsfield Place and Viewforth in Edinburgh probably have little idea that their cappuccinos come with a slice of haggis history.

Sixty years ago butcher Charlie Macsween set up shop on the site. Six decades later Macsween is one of the leading producers of haggis, with a factory in Loanhead, a range that includes vegetarian haggis and black pudding, more than 50 staff, and turnover nudging £5m.
Its customers include all the major supermarkets, wholesalers such as Booker, specialist food wholesalers like Fife Creamery and Braehead, and independent stores across the UK.
The business is now run by two of Charlie’s grandchildren, Jo Macsween and her brother James, who took over in 2006
And recent years have seen important changes, especially in product innovation, marketing and communication.
But, as Jo explained, both her mum and dad were crucial to the earlier transformation of the company.
Major expansion began when Charlie’s son John joined the business in the late 1950s. Macsween’s bought the adjacent corner unit to form a larger shop where haggis was produced until the Loanhead site opened in 1996.
Jo said: “Macsween’s haggis was produced in the shop, like all good butchers.
“But in the 1980s Safeway opened in Morningside and our red meat sales plummeted. There was a real crisis about how high street butchers were going to survive.”
“One day we were selling more in wholesale than we were in retail,” said Jo. “My mother has always been a blue-sky thinker and for her it was obvious that we give up the shop, build the first-ever haggis kitchen and start supplying the supermarkets.
“The market has changed and we can take a lot of credit for that, but haggis has a number of challenges. My job is to help consumers see it as a very fine example of Scottish charcuterie, a food and not a ‘thing’.
“We tread a very fine line between being a guardian of authenticity and quality and making sure that haggis meets needs of modern consumerism. That’s hard but we’ve already had some success with the microwavable version, it’s introduced a whole new set of consumers.”
Jo is confident that Macsween’s produces some of the highest-quality haggis available but also keeps an eye open for passionate new haggis makers.
“The real competition to us is other artisan butchers making haggis who haven’t taken the big step to grow, approach the supermarkets and supply their product. That’s where I benchmark my quality. It should be as good, if not better, than any really good high-street craftsman butcher’s haggis,” she said.
With six decades of trade to celebrate, what does Macsween’s have planned for the future?
“Staying in business for another 60 years,” Jo said.
“It’s about a rare combination of honouring your heritage but looking up and looking forward. That’s exactly where we are and we’re in a great place to take the business forward and build a brand that has the confidence of consumers.”