It’s an incredible success story. Simon grew up just a few hundred yards from where he now runs his award-winning business just outside the picturesque village of Dunning. His father and grandfather before him farmed the local area for nearly 90 years, dating back to the 1930s.
Today, the business turns over £16m a year and plans are in place to grow that figure significantly. “A good fighting weight for us would be £25m,” says Simon, referring to recent investment, supported by the Scottish Government’s Food Processing, Marketing & Co-operation Scheme, which has seen a 10,000ft2 expansion of the business’s modern factory.
“There will inevitably be some steps back in that journey, but that’s natural. It’s important to pause and take stock from time to time. That’s always been something we’ve been comfortable doing.”
Having graduated from Perth Academy before starting his butcher’s apprenticeship in Perth, Simon remains proud of his Perthshire heritage and the Scottish provenance of the products he provides to UK consumers. Since opening his first shop in Dunning on 19 December 1986, Simon hasn’t looked back. Local custom grew into supplying local restaurants and hotels before further shops were added in Auchterarder (1991), Dunkeld (1993) and the acquisition of the Perth High Street butchers where he’d served as apprentice.
“In 1994, I purchased Findony Farm, which had belonged to my father’s Uncle during the 1940s,” Simon explains. “It was nice to bring the farm back into family ownership. That period coincided with an infamous food safety scandal at a butcher’s shop in Wishaw, Lanarkshire. The resulting investigation required all butchers in Scotland to become licensed and established stringent food safety standards.
“At the time, we were constructing our new factory here at Findony Farm. We were able to build a purpose-built facility, with optimised process flows. We tried to establish the business as a shining light in food safety.”
The business was thriving, but the tipping point came in 1999, when it joined the supplier developer programme with Sainsbury’s. “We began supplying them with haggis and black pudding and that effectively broke the ice.”
Simon continues: “Nothing is as significant as the moment when you first begin to supply a supermarket. It doesn’t matter how big you get, that moment is a metaphorical Rubicon. We now sell more than 6 million packs of product, per year, through our supermarket partners and they help us reach our consumers seven days a week all over the UK, from Shetland to Penzance.”
Today, the business employs about 110 people at Findony Farm, with an additional 25 across Simon Howie’s two remaining retail outlets in Auchterarder and Perth. “Our retail presence remains important to us. It gives us an opportunity to demonstrate to buyers what a good butcher’s shop looks like. I guess we are walking the walk.”
“In fact, when we first started working with Sainsbury’s, the Chairman and Chief Executive came to our Perth shop and asked if we could do the same things across their Scottish stores. Because of that conversation, we ran all Sainsbury’s meat counters in Scotland under the Simon Howie brand between 2003-08, which gave us great visibility and huge uplift in turnover.”
Following its recent expansion, Simon says the business has significant opportunity for growth. “We’re like a four-person family now living in a six-bedroom house – we’re effectively operating at about 40% capacity. Would we like it to be bigger? Absolutely! We already have several national lines in Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco, including our bacon, haggis and black pudding and our ambition is to transform our turnover from its current 70%/30% Scotland/UK split to 30%/70%.”