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Waitrose and M&S put Highland Fine Cheeses on the shelves as it continues its advance into English markets

HFC Rory Stone

Highland Fine Cheeses, maker of iconic brands such as Caboc and Strathdon Blue, is celebrating the success of its advance into lucrative English markets from its base in the farming community of Tain in Ross-shire.

The family firm, which has been delivering high-quality produce since the fifties, had until the turn of the century focused on distinctive Scottish cheeses such as Caboc and Crowdie for the domestic Scottish market.

It now specialises in blue, brie and washed rind cheeses, which make up 90% of its output, and which have attracted the attention of influential wholesalers such as Rowcliffe, the UK’s leading importer and distributor of quality cheese and fine foods.

Highland’s relationship the Kent-based giant means that its cheeses will now feature in Waitrose selection boxes sold from its deli counters across the UK, as part of the chain’s lockdown-inspired support for artisanal cheesemakers.

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In another first, the company’s Morangie Brie, named after the Glen of Tranquility, is being promoted by M&S at its outlets across London.

Owner Rory Stone, whose parents established the near-£2 million turnover company, said: “Rowcliffe has been a vital part of our expansion into the rest of the UK, and is taking our products in the direction we need to go in order to maintain what in recent years has been quite extraordinary growth.

“We have had a long-term connection with Rowcliffe which, like us, is a family concern. Until recently, we featured primarily in its Scottish range, and achieved great sales on occasions such as Burns Night and St Andrew’s Day.

“Now it is promoting us to much bigger, UK-wide companies, which I believe is a recognition of our ability to consistently deliver a quality product and to handle the volumes which these new markets will demand.”

Rowcliffe is now among Highland’s top five customers, taking 10% of its output. Other major buyers include French food conglomerate Lactalis, Aldi, Lidl, Crest, Clark Speciality Foods, Braehead Foods and Williamson Food Service.

Its range – creamy Caboc, pungent, washed rind Minger, Gruyere-style Fat Cow, Skinny and Black Crowdie, Highland and Morangie Brie, Blue Murder, Strathdon Blue and Tain Cheddar – has won a number of national and international awards.

Mr Stone added: “It used to be that 90% of what we sold was Caboc and Crowdie. But tastes change and now these items account for only 10% of production. Consumers have been exposed to much more variety and there is a voracious appetite for quality.

“Despite challenges in the form of soaring raw materials – milk prices have gone up by 60% – as well as energy and labour costs, we are now very well positioned to flourish in a greatly expanded territory.”

Sunit Mehta, Managing Director of Rowcliffe said: “We are proud of the relationships we have with our artisan supplier partners and we provide a platform for them to supply products to independent and multiple retail customers.”

Highland Fine Cheeses employs 13 people and is now actively recruiting to sustain growth.

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