Out of the ashes of a historic mill that burned down last year, a farming family has launched a brand of oatmeal direct to health-conscious consumers.
The move comes as the Medlock family face a drop in oatmeal sales due to coronavirus restrictions as well as spiralling costs to ship wholesale to European buyers under post-Brexit rules.
The cost of sending their traditional brand goods, Oatmeal of Alford, to Spain has more than doubled due to red tape imposed on hauliers under the terms of the new trading arrangements.
The Medlocks, who farm organic, gluten-free oats on 260 acres near Laurencekirk, have launched Honest Oats – a range of porridge oats available via their website.
The new brand is part of the family’s Oatmeal of Alford business, which in recent years has been focused on supplying wholesale to manufacturers as well as to hotels.
Honest Oats is the concept of Michael Medlock, who recently returned to the fold with his young family after working in the Middle East in the oil and gas industry.
It was his parents, John and Carol, who acquired the mill near Alford in 1998 where they processed around 18 tonnes a year of their own oats.
It is thought there has been a mill at Montgarrie on the Esson burn for around 800 years. However, disaster struck in April last year when the building burned down .
Michael said: “When we lost the mill due to the fire, it was truly devastating. At the time we were as busy as we’d ever been.”
Undaunted, the family shifted production to their farm at Mains of Haulkerton where they operate a hammer mill and two dehulling lines. Although the oats are no longer ground by stone as at the old mill, they are still dried in the original kiln, which escaped the fire’s ravages.
“They are still getting the same taste, the same nutty flavour,” said Michael.
“We still employ somebody there for kilning. We’ll wait and see how life progresses over the next couple of years before deciding if we reinstate the mill or modernise it at the farm.”
Although oats do not contain gluten, they must meet stringent standards in order to be called “gluten-free” under food labelling regulations.
Contamination from storage silos, machinery or even nearby farms can cause producers to fail to meet the standard.
The Medlocks are thought to be the only such producer of organic, gluten-free oats in Scotland.
Michael said: “We walk through every field we cut in the summer.
“Sometimes we reject a field before we cut it because there’s too much barley or wheat. But the last five or six years we’ve never had a failed batch of oats. It is really worth the effort for us.”
He said the introduction of the new brand marks a full circle for the family’s business.
Oatmeal of Alford had been growing retail market share until it took the difficult decision to withdraw from supplying supermarkets around five years ago due to margin pressures.
The new range is still hand-packaged in biodegradable materials and has been highly successful since it was launched for sale around two weeks ago, said Michael.
He added: “We believe we are offering great value to the customer on the internet because they are getting it direct from the farm and it’s not going through another buyer or merchant.”
To further burnish the sustainability credentials of Honest Oats, Mr Medlock says he plans to trial a minimum-tillage system at the farm, starting with 30 acres.