AT 60 years old Fife Creamery has witnessed some significant changes in the convenience and grocery business down the years, and the Kirkcaldy-based firm has been at the forefront of many of them.
Founded as a butter-packing firm in 1957, Fife Creamery has been a business of firsts to market since it started out selling quarter pounders of butter to retailers across Scotland.
When John Simpson snr founded Fife Creamery he kick-started a new kind of branding, according to sales director Steve Appolinari, who said the business was part of “the very beginnings of own label”.
“Fife Creamery soon began packing private label for numerous businesses including many of the leading dairy companies in Scotland. That’s how we started,” he said.
Pioneering is a watchword at Fife Creamery, and Appolinari said things really got going in the early 70s when John’s son Jock took charge of the business.
“Early in the 70s Jock saw the opportunity to add other products. The growing range of dairy related lines quickly moved in a delicatessen direction,” he said.
“The Deli sector was on the rise, it was a massive marketplace and Fife Creamery soon developed a portfolio of products that supplied most of the independents and delis in Scotland.
“That was the beginning of the modern-day Fife Creamery business.”
Not content with having cornered the delicatessen market, in the late 80s Fife Creamery made its first steps into the foodservice sector – a move that’s had a domino effect on the wholesaler’s offer to retailers.
“No sooner were we bringing in a plethora of new foodservice tailored products, we were finding many of these were working for the retail market as well,” said Appolinari.
That exchange of knowledge and sectors has done the business proud down the years, he said, and allowed it to bring a tremendous number of firsts to market, such as Müller Fruit Corners in 1987, New Covent Garden chilled soups in 1989 and fresh smoothies in 2002.
While Appolinari admits, many new products have been met with some caution from retailers down the years, the proof has certainly been in the pudding and it’s put the business in prime position for the emerging food to go trend.
“We’re ready for that market,” he said. “If you’re thinking of introducing a food-to-go outlet, think about all the experience we’ve had in the foodservice sector. The invaluable knowledge gained dealing with the biggest and the best on the high street means that we are transporting those ideas over to retail outlets nowadays.”
With food to go in growth, safety and hygiene has never been more important, and it’s an area Fife Creamery has always focused on.
Appolinari said Fife Creamery is very proud of its food safety record, and the way in which the business has stayed at the technological forefront down the years.
“If you look at some of our vehicles you’ll still see the original strapline – ‘Scotland’s Original Chilled Food Service’. It’s a factual statement and one we have continued to develop,” said Appolinari.
Fife Creamery was the first depot with its own chill-to-chill loading docking bay, and in 1998, when the firm was seeking STS accreditation status for an NHS contract, there were more than a few bemused manufacturers.
“The common line back then was, ‘you want all my microbiological specifications? But Tesco and Sainsbury’s don’t ask us for that,” said Appolinari.
“Fast forward to today, if we don’t have these details, we simply cannot work with a supplier.”
Improvements in logistics haven’t been limited to food safety either. Fife Creamery also pioneered one-day lead time, a big plus for its retail customers.
“Our goods are stock held. You’ve got over 2,000 lines a retailer can buy into, and this business here has them in stock waiting for you to order,” he said.
When ordering these lines, Appolinari said retailers aren’t limited to case size either, as Fife Creamery offers single unit orders over a large number of its product range – a model that’s advantageous for retailers with a smaller chiller, trying something new and helping with wastage.
Moving with the times has been key to Fife Creamery arriving at its 60th birthday, but it’s not a business of change for change’s sake.
At present, five of Fife Creamery’s 10 strong sales team each have more than 30 years’ experience with the firm, and Appolinari said the business is committed to continuing to offer retailers a face to face service.
“Not only do we believe in it, we’ve always invested in this resource. We see our experienced team as an effective way to work with retailers and the best way to get our message across on new trends, new products and merchandising solutions,” he said.
Staying on top of new trends, while still offering face to face contact, is at the heart of Fife Creamery’s business, and Appolinari reckons it’s an ethos that will see the firm thrive all the way to its centennial and beyond.
“We’re as strong as ever as a business and we want to serve the country for another 60 years,” he said.