Macsween of Edinburgh, is a third-generation family firm based in Scotland. They are well known for their range of meat products, in particular the production of the Scottish delicacy, haggis. The Macsween family has been making its haggis for over 60 years, and first began the business as a butchers in the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh. Macsween produce a wide range of meat products distributed internationally, from its traditional haggis to vegetarian and gluten-free alternatives, to black pudding.
In October of this year, it was announced that Macsween would be the first company to export haggis into Canada for 46 years following the company’s efforts to successfully create a recipe that complied with Canadian regulations. Source Nutraceutical worked with Macsween on its food labelling to ensure they met the requirements for food labelling and nutritional information in Canada. We’ve been speaking to Macsween’s Managing Director, James Macsween, who has given us the low-down on haggis in Canada and the process the business undertook to get its haggis approved and cleared for distribution in the country.
We’re proud to be the producers of Scotland’s national dish, haggis, and even more proud to be voted as Scotland’s Most Loved Haggis brand*. Haggis has always provoked curiosity with those unaccustomed to its history and ingredients. Our Canadian haggis is made up of lamb, oats, onions and spices, while our recipe sold elsewhere in the world uses beef. One of the great things about haggis is that’s it’s a food that can be enjoyed in a wide variety of dishes from your traditional Scottish, ‘haggis, neeps and tatties’, to a topping on nachos and the beef alternative in lasagne.
We’re fortunate enough to be in demand overseas as well as in Scotland, particularly from Scottish expats, and currently export to various countries around the world. One of the countries we haven’t been able to export to was Canada, due to a ban on British meat products.
Scots in Canada have been reaching out to us over the years in search of a true taste of home – a Scottish-made haggis. From the moment the ban on imported British meat products was lifted five years ago, we knew there was an opportunity for us to cater to a demand we knew existed in the market, and to be the first haggis producing company to be distributed in Canada in almost five decades.
In May this year, I was given the fantastic news that our haggis had made it. It had been five years since the ban on imported British meat products had been lifted and it had been a moment we had well and truly been waiting for. It’s with thanks to the fantastic team at Macsween, Scottish Government organisation Scottish Development International and Source Nutraceutical, that we were able to make the steps to be the business that made it into Canada first.
The first step in the process took place in 2016 when we applied for our Macsween trademark to be approved for the Canadian market. We had to go through various approval processes to get this underway.
The second step in the process took place back in February of this year. We applied to the Animal, Plant and Health Agency (APHA), and stated our intention to take our haggis (using beef) into Canada, based on the understanding that all beef was now allowed into Canada. Unfortunately, they came back to say that processed beef was still not allowed into the country despite the ban on meat products being lifted.
So, we made the application again and this time with lamb as the key ingredient. We were thrilled to get this cleared and our application was sent through to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who then approved it and shared it with the Food Standards Agency. They then passed it on to our local Food Standards Scotland, who then liaised with environmental health, to make sure we met all of the requirements.
Once they cleared us, DEFRA then sent our application onto the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) who then made the decision to grant us a license to trade our haggis in Canada and with everybody’s hard work, we were added to the CFIA Approved Establishment Register, which officially acted as the seal of approval for us to trade in the country. The only condition was that we buy our processed lamb meat from an approved abattoir which is also on the CFIA Approved Establishment Register.
It took four months from the initial application in February 2017 for Macsween to get clearance and approval by all bodies to export haggis into Canada.
In May, we were focused on getting the recipe right to make sure it stayed true to the quality and taste that our fans know and love, and at the same time, complied with the meat import regulations. The only ingredient we needed to change was in the meat, whereby we removed the beef element and swapped our usual lamb lung for lamb heart. It took a lot of work and tasting to get the product just right and up to our stringent high standards.
As with all food products, whether it’s in the UK or abroad, businesses have to be compliant with labelling and nutritional regulations of the country it’s trading with. For the Canadian market, the labels needed to be French-Canadian, so that it was suitable for the English and French speaking citizens. This is where we worked with Source Nutraceutical, who made sure we were able to adapt our British labels for the change in recipe and of course, to meet regulations for Canadian food labels.
Source Nutraceutical made the whole process a lot easier, working with our Head of Marketing and International Business Manager to finalise proofs so that we were keeping in line with the Macsween brand, whilst being compliant with Canadian regulations.
With the recipe good to go and product packaging and labelling complete, we were ready for spreading the word about our new haggis recipe for the Canadian market and starting to have serious conversations with distributors.
Scottish Development International has played a huge part in getting us in the fortunate position we’re in now with distributors. The government body has representatives in Canada who were able to identify potential distributors to us and these contacts have proved to be invaluable.
We also attended a couple of exhibitions earlier in the year, the first being The International Food and Drink Event in London, which enabled us to have some initial discussions with those individuals involved with the Canadian market. We were then able to build on those relationships in May when we attended the SIAL Canada food industry event, where we were able to let potential distributors actually sample our new recipe and talk to them about the product when it was right in front of them, highlighting to them what makes Macsween’s haggis different from what is produced in Canada.
Our first shipment went out with Dom International and we’re continuously working with our distributors to source key retailing opportunities across the country. We’ve got distributors across Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary including British Grocer Wholesale, Morgan Williams, Fresh Concept and Worldwide Speciality Foods, who are all taking the product to key retailers
It’s not just large distribution companies who are taking an interest. Five years ago, when I visited Canada to explore opportunities, I visited The Caledonian, Toronto’s Scottish Public House and Whisky Bar, where they were selling Canadian haggis on the menu. They agreed that they would purchase their haggis from Macsween if we were able to get clearance to export our haggis into Canada. Their wish, and ours, came true, and they’ve now got our haggis on the menu. It really makes us proud to think that we can offer Scots in Canada a little taste of something from their homeland.
We’re also really excited about the upcoming Spruce Meadows Christmas Market which is taking place in Calgary, where our haggis is being sampled over a weekend of festive fun in the city, opening us up to an audience of over 100,000 people, which is fantastic.
The Canadian market is a massive opportunity for us, with a Scottish heritage community of 4.7 million people, many of whom are in search of an authentic Scottish haggis. With both large distributors and smaller stores getting in touch to sell our haggis, the future is most certainly bright for us. We look forward to working with our friends in Canada to expand the business and hopefully supply our Scottish and Canadian fans with Scotland’s most loved haggis* brand, Macsween. For anyone reading this who now has a curiosity about haggis, I’ll leave you with this traditional recipe from Macsween for the Scottish classic, ‘Haggis, Neeps and Tatties’:
• 907g Macsween haggis
• 1kg turnips
• 1 large carrot
• 1kg Maris Piper potatoes
• 100ml milk, warmed in the microwave
• 80g butter
• Salt and pepper to taste
Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
- Heat the haggis following the instructions, meanwhile peel the potatoes and turnips, then dice the turnips and carrot into 1cm cubes and cut the potatoes into quarters.
- Gently boil the potatoes in a pan of salted water and the carrot and turnip in a separate pan of salted water for 20-25 minutes until soft.
- Drain each pan separately and allow all the steam and moisture to evaporate. This will ensure creamy potatoes and turnips that are not watery.
- To the potatoes, add 40g butter, the hot milk, salt and pepper to taste and mash well until creamy. To the turnips and carrots, add 40g butter, salt and pepper to taste and mash, retaining some texture.
- Serve the hot haggis together with the neeps & tatties.
For more easy and delicious ways to enjoy your haggis, head to Macsween.co.uk/recipes for lots of great ideas.
*Source: Out of 170 participants tested, 132 rated Macsween of Edinburgh Original Recipe Haggis as their favourite. Independent Blind Taste Panel, July 2017