Scotland's New Super Berry

Article by Sue Hean, contributing writer for Entrepreneurial Scotland.

We recently met up with the commercial team behind the Scottish Honeyberry Growers, a co-operative of farmers in Scotland growing the new super berry. Passionate about raising awareness around this little known super fruit, plans are underway to launch a range of honeyberry products to market over the next two years.

Advising on business strategy and connecting them with the big food manufacturers in Scotland, is Johnston Carmichael, our corporate partner since 2013 and unwavering supporters of SME companies in the food and drink industry.

Why the hype about these super berries?

A naturally existing member of the edible honeysuckle family, honeyberries have been cherished in Japan for decades. They’re known as the ‘berry of longevity’ or ‘berry of vision’ due to their exceptional health benefits. Scotland has the perfect climate for growing honeyberries with crop yields increasing annually within two years of planting.

Best described as tasting of blueberry, grape and plum with added zing, honeyberries have four times the antioxidants as blueberries, more vitamin C than an orange and more potassium than a banana.


Getting the right business advice and support

Spearheading the business drive behind Scottish Honeyberries is business consultant and farmer Malcolm Morrison and food entrepreneur David Gannon. Both have successfully developed and launched food retail products to market and collaborated on food innovation projects. Now working closely with Adam Hardie, Business Development Partner and Head of Food & Drink at Johnston Carmichael, their mission is to find the right business to partner with and secure funding.

Malcom Morrison, investor in established snack brand Growers Garden explains, “This is a busy food category for retailers, but we’ve already had strong interest from a number of high profile UK food brands. We’re in a great position to join up with an ambitious business partner who shares our passion for bringing health-packed, tasty new products to market using Scottish honeyberries.”

Not to mention the potential for farmers to expand their crop sizes once demand builds and they become an alternative crop for Scotland in the future.

“Honeyberries are considered nutritional powerhouses because their goodness and density run right through the whole berry, not just the outer skin."

Consumer awareness and getting your product noticed

Launching a new healthy eating product needs to be underpinned by consumer awareness and education around the benefits of honeyberries. This is a key consideration when looking for an established food manufacturer to partner with; one who can take the product to the retailers and enthuse about them as a new exciting super food to promote in store.

Development chef and food entrepreneur David Gannon knows what it takes to launch into retail having taken Curry Dave Naan Pizzas to market.

He explains, “Honeyberries are considered nutritional powerhouses because their goodness and density run right through the whole berry, not just the outer skin. Picked fresh they can be eaten straight away with breakfast granola, frozen to use later or potentially sold fresh direct to hoteliers for recipe dishes. Developed into products, they’re hugely versatile. I’m working on a number of different products and sending samples almost daily to manufacturers for their feedback.”

The challenges of taking product from ‘farm to plate’

There are plenty of hurdles to overcome when launching a new food product. Being fully on top of nutritional information and British Retail Consortium (BRC) accreditation is essential. Malcolm also highlights the importance of branding and category management and makes the point that lots of business support is needed in these areas by farm co-operatives working in this competitive healthy eating retail sector.

“We need to encourage and support far more healthy food innovation here in Scotland."

Healthy food innovation requires funding

There’s huge potential for honeyberries to act as a catalyst for healthy food innovation and awareness in Scotland. But it’s a long road ahead which ideally needs support at government level.

Adam Hardie comments, “We need to encourage and support far more healthy food innovation here in Scotland. With health and well-being growing as a sector, I believe there’s real potential for honeyberries to perform strongly as a product.

“The other major point to highlight is the lack of grant funding now available for food and drink businesses. Previously Scottish start-ups and growing food and drink businesses could approach the Food Processing and Marketing Scheme (FPMC) for typically 40 percent grant funding on a project, however, this was EU funding which with Brexit, has now ceased. UK and Scottish Government have both been distracted by Covid, but now need to work together to replace this key element of the funding mix fast.

“When you’re a new start business, you can’t get debt funding so grant funding is so important. When you’re driving innovation, these new starts need money.”


Scotland as the ideal market launch location?

Ahead of expanding into bigger markets, Scotland is the ideal place to first launch because of proximity and access to all the major food and drink manufacturers. It also has the advantage of having a regional retail structure which allows smaller businesses to get in front of senior level management early on. So far, the experience has been altogether positive for Scottish Honeyberries with invaluable early stage feedback on their product samples including berry yogurts and ice-cream, raw fruit bars and breakfast pots.

“The plan so far is to give selected Scottish companies exclusivity to the product before launching in England and beyond. Most likely we’ll start with Scottish wholesalers, farm shops and added value delicatessens in partnership with a contract manufacturer. This would be the preferred route before moving onto volume sales through the retailers”, explains Malcolm.

“You need to have a real passion, belief and drive for what you’re doing."

Supporting and growing entrepreneurship in Scotland

Asked for his views on entrepreneurship and any advice he’d give to those starting out, Malcolm shares, “You need to have a real passion, belief and drive for what you’re doing. Stay dedicated to your core business idea and learn to be resilient. But at the same time, not be blinded by your own vision. It’s vital to take people with you and build an understanding and following for your product.

“I also believe it’s important we encourage and support our young entrepreneurs in Scotland by not dampening their creativity and ideas early stage. Creativity will help give fuel to the fire of their new business. Once you’ve harnessed your core business idea, then start building a team around you with the balance of skills required to take the business forward. Listen to business owners who are happy to share their experiences and lessons learned. This will enable you to reach your business targets and benchmarks more quickly and measure business performance more accurately.”

Article by Sue Hean, contributing writer for Entrepreneurial Scotland.
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