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Murdoch Allan: North-east family bakery on cooking up three decades of success

The Hatton headquartered business is best known for its Aberdeen butteries, steak pies and yum yums.

Murdoch Allan directors Paul and Katrina Allan. Image: Murdoch Allan
Murdoch Allan directors Paul and Katrina Allan. Image: Murdoch Allan

Family bakery Murdoch Allan has grown in strength since it started in 1991 with its Aberdeen rowies, pies, and yum yums an institution for many.

The business was started by Murdoch and Caroline Allan along with their son Paul.

They bought their first bakery in Fraserburgh for £46,000 and now employ 170 staff with a near £10 million turnover.

The company supplies Asda, Aldi, Co-op Local, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s with its sought-after Aberdeen butteries, morning rolls and other baked goods.

Murdoch Allan is also the supplier of Aberdeen FC’s famous Pittodrie Pies, selling around 1.5 million since 2018.

Calling to be a baker was strong

Paul was 16 years old when he joined the business along with his parents.

The 49-year-old originally wanted to be a RAF pilot but found himself at Technical College in Aberdeen training to be a baker after leaving Mintlaw Academy.

He said: “I had decided I wanted to have a career in baking.

“I’d work at the weekends and my grandfather was a baker as was my two uncles.

“It was in my blood. I had ideas of joining the RAF and being a pilot but the calling to be a baker was to strong.

“I stayed at college for a year until I left to join the business.”

Murdoch Allan managing director Paul Allan with his grandfather James Allan when he was starting out with his career.

Murdoch Allan started after buying Reid’s in Fraserburgh for £46,000. In the first year turnover went from £70,000 to £350,000.

Paul, who is married to fellow director Katrina, 52, said: “We rebranded Reid’s as Murdoch Allan and changed all the recipes straightaway.

“It’s not often you’d do that from the get go. But the Reid’s business wasn’t doing very well so we decided we’d use our own.

“We worked our socks off and were very successful.

“There was a bingo hall and on a Friday night we used to have hot butteries come out the oven ready for when it finished.

“It was a big part of our business.”

Acquisition doubled turnover

Two years after their first acquisition the Allan family took over Robb’s Bakery in Strichen.

Product ranges increased as well as the supply of corner shops and independent supermarkets.

Murdoch Allan opened its first retail shop in Ellon but took the decision to close when Tesco was built as Paul didn’t feel it was the right location any longer.

Paul and Katrina pictured in 2015 with Asda regional director Brian O’Shea.

He said: “It went well initially but we pulled out when Tesco opened and the school was moving.

“It was a rented property and we didn’t feel like it was the right place to stay.

“Instead we opened a shop in Turriff in 1996. We worked away at that until we were looking for larger premises.”

In 2002, with the long-established Simmers factory in Hatton due for closure by owners United Biscuits, a deal was struck for Murdoch Allan to take over the factory and maintain production in the village.

As a result, local jobs were safeguarded and turnover virtually doubled overnight.

At the same time a deal was agreed for Murdoch Allan to acquire Chalmers Bakery north division.

Paul said: “The Simmers factory came up and after a lot of wrangling we got it.

“At the same time we took over the north division of Chalmers bakery.

“It was everything north of the city which allowed us to double our shops from six to 12.

“But that wasn’t such a good move. We closed a lot of the shops as time went on because we felt it wasn’t the right location.”

Supermarket deals

The acquisition of Simmers saw staff numbers soar to 60 people and Murdoch Allan was now producing shortbread and biscuits for McVitie’s.

A big milestone for the business came in 2005 when Murdoch Allan started supplying Asda.

Paul, who married Katrina in 2012, said: “It was a big change for the business but we were lucky as we had the experience of supplying McVitie’s.

“We had the expertise in house and started supplying multiple supermarkets starting with Asda.

“It’s something I’m proud of. We supply 25 products across 60 Asda stores.”

Aberdeen butteries a best seller

Murdoch Allan has bakeries in Aberdeen, Fraserburgh, Turriff, Hatton, Peterhead and Mintlaw.

When asked about best sellers there’s no hesitation from Paul.

“Aberdeen butteries are miles ahead followed by steak pies, mince pies, yum yums and then pineapple danish,” he said.

Another big acquisition for Murdoch Allan was Thains Bakery in 2015 for a seven-figure sum.

A Pittodrie Pie pictured in 2020 whixh is supplied by Murdoch Allan. Image: Big Partnership

Then in 2018 it started supplying pies for Aberdeen FC. Paul estimates they have sold 1.5 million in that time.

In 2021 the Allan family was hit hard with the death of Murdoch at the age of 69.

He had still been very active in the business up until a year before he died.

Paul said: “He was a big miss to me. We were very close.

“We worked together and were friends as well as father and son.

“Dad had been a baker all his life and had a lot of experience.”

“I’m really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve as a family business.

“Our values have never changed.

“We didn’t want to be a Harrods. Our people are very valued and always said it should never be a thought for anyone to come to work.”

Family support been important

Those sentiments are echoed by Katrina who met Paul while working in Simmers.

She said: “There’s always ups and downs but when you are both in business together it doesn’t feel like it’s a job.

Paul at his bakery in Hatton. Image: Duncan Brown

“We speak about it at the breakfast table but it’s a normal chat for us.

“We have been supportive for each other.

“The girls loved being involved in the business. Danielle worked as a Saturday girl in the Peterhead shop from 13 up until she went to university.”

Earlier this year, Murdoch Allan made its first move out of the north-east with the acquisition of Teviotdale Bakery in Dundee .

Farming and distilling

The couple are now looking towards their next project after buying a farm with a herd of pedigree Aberdeen Angus and renovating the house.

As well as baking Paul and Katrina have turned their hand to distilling and in 2020 started their own vodka and gin spirit brand called Still Spirited.

During the first year of trading, the couple focused on building brand awareness locally and within the wholesale market.

Paul and Katrina Allan, owners of Still Spirited, have just launched their products on Amazon. Image: Korero

It is already stocked in some independent retailers and bars around the north-east.

They are now setting their sights on now looking to win a greater share of the UK market by having Still Spirited products available on Amazon.

Looking to the future of Murdoch Allan, Paul hopes to see the business continue to flourish.

He said: “We’ll continue to do what we’re doing.

“For us it’s about the quality of the product and keeping up our standards.”