To many people, the chilly, wind-swept highlands of Scotland do not appear to offer an abundance of natural resources for developing a successful business enterprise.
Greenery, hills, rivers and lakes might be attractive for tourism, but don't seem at first glance to have much in the way of other economic advantages.Yet Scottish food and drinks producers, concentrating on niche markets both at home and abroad, have made food processing the second fastest growing industry in Scotland after electronics.
The 2,000 companies in the Scottish food and beverage industry, averaging fewer than 100 employees apiece, export some 10 percent to 15 percent of their output. For the scotch whisky industry, exports account for more than half of production.
Among the local products that have found their way to U.S. supermarket shelves are Lobster Bisque, Cock-a-Leekie and Royal Game Soup, smoked salmon, and of course, whisky.
His grandmother's and mother's recipes helped Andrew Baxter launch Baxters of Speyside Ltd., producers of these soups, according to Mr. Baxter, who is a director of the company.
Today the 100-year-old family firm is one of Britain's leading producers of soups and jams, generating annual sales of about 25 million ($45 million), employing 500 and exporting to Europe and North America.
Baxters is typical of dozens of Scottish food and drink companies, many of which cater to the gourmet or top end of their markets.
Over the years, there have been some 135 takeover bids for Baxters from companies such as Heinz, General Foods, General Mills, United Biscuits and Campbells, but Mr. Baxter and his family are determined to remain paternal owners and employers.
Their company, at Fochabers, Morayshire, is blessed, as their soup cans claim, by the natural larder of produce from the hills and glens.
This attraction of the best of local Scottish ingredients has helped Baxter's to triple its exports over the past five years to around 3 million in 1988, or 15 percent of total turnover.
Half an hour away in the village of Aberlour is family owned Walkers Shortbread Ltd.
Some 25 percent of the company's output of shortbreads, oatcakes and fruitcakes is exported to over 30 countries, helping Walkers win the Queen's Award for Export Achievement in both 1984 and 1988. Its customers include Neiman-Marcus and United Airlines.
Ian Armour, Walker's export executive, said the company does not disclose its financial results, but claimed that sales amount to tens of millions of pounds.
Like many other Scottish food producers, Walkers is vital to the economy of the local community. Aberlour is a village of only some 1,000 inhabitants, but Walkers employs almost 500 people.
Scottish beef is another food product prized in many parts of the world. A group of local meat farmers in Aberdeenshire formed a cooperative 28 years ago that today is the seventh largest meat producer in the United Kingdom.
Buchan Meat Producers Ltd. has annual sales of 45 million ($78 million) and export sales of almost 5 million ($9 million).
Michael Tough, Buchan's technical manager, said the 3,200 cattle and sheep slaughtered each week are sold to many major U.K. retail chains or exported fresh, vacuum packed in refrigerated containers.
Cowhide, a byproduct of the meat industry, is a major ingredient used by another food industry producer, Devro Ltd., the world's largest maker of sausage casings.
Devro is located at Motherwell Foodpark, near Glasgow, site of Britain's first business park exclusively for the food industry.
Iain Heston, Devro's process manager, said the company has annual revenue of some 40 million ($72 million), of which some 15 percent is exported to Europe, Egypt and the Middle East.
The company, owned by Johnson & Johnson of the United States, produces
from two sites in Scotland.
It is one of 41 companies operating at Motherwell Foodpark.
The park's operations director, Eric Flannigan, said the idea behind the six-year-old center is to provide a focus for expanding beyond Scotland's traditional food strengths in meat and fish.
The food and drinks industry is Scotland's second largest employer, but third from the bottom in terms of value added, he pointed out.
Motherwell is one of the projects of the Scottish Development Agency, a government body designed to help boost industry and investment.
Jim Maxwell, project executive of the SDA's Food and Agri Division, said it has various projects to help train, fund and advise individuals and companies wanting to start up or expand in the food industry.
The sector is also assisted by the Scottish Food Research Consortium, a group of seven academic institutions or research centers all geared to improving knowledge of food production and usage.