Julia Bryce takes a look behind the scenes of the new product launch to find out what’s involved, and why crisp producers go to such lengths to keep their flavours fresh..
The crisp aisles at the supermarket are piled high with stacks and stacks of different crisp flavours.
There’s everything from steak, extra cheesy, to more exotic kinds including sweet chilli, Cajun, jalapeno and wasabi to name a few.
Mountains of bags lined in rows sit patiently awaiting ravenous consumers who seemingly have an enormous appetite for a range of flavours.
While some crisps are produced on mass as part of brands’ core ranges, other limited edition and seasonal flavours sneak into the market, dominating the space for a few months at a time.
But what does it take to make it as a new flavour of one of the nation’s favourite snacks?
Revealing their latest release, Tayside firm Mackie’s at Taypack, based in Errol, has launched the firm’s new flavour, lorne sausage and brown sauce, inspired by one of the Scotland’s much-loved breakfast rolls.
The world-first is a nod to the country’s love of lorne – or as some refer to it, square sausage, and is the successor of the popular Burns-inspired creation, haggis, neeps and tatties, which outsold all of Mackie’s expectations.
The brand hopes stockists’ appetite should see it reach more than £100,000 in retail sales.
James Taylor, commercial director and Shelley Reid, marketing manager at the firm are just two of the individuals who have been involved in the launch of the product.
James works alongside his father, managing director George Taylor, to bring the unique flavours to market and is the fourth generation to work at the family-run farm which produces Mackie’s Crisps – a joint venture with Mackie’s of Scotland in Aberdeenshire.
Estimated to churn out 150,000 bags (150g) – similar initial numbers to the haggis, neeps and tatties limited edition – James says this isn’t just a number plucked out of thin air and is very much dependent on the retailers they continuously work with.
He said: “It goes on past promotional things we’ve done on snacking lines and new flavours. What we tend to do is go to our customer base and gauge the interest. They will give us some sort of commitment as to what they are likely to buy. We then factor all of that in. That’s when we set ourselves a number and see if it works. Sometimes we’ll allow a bit of flexibility in case it really does take off. The haggis, neeps and tatties hit more than estimated and so far the engagement on lorne sausage has been great so we’re hoping to see similar results.
“It really does taste just like the real thing. The addition of brown sauce gives it a really savoury and complex flavour profile.”
But how does a business come up with a new flavour and get it to market? Especially the more challenging and turbulent market at present.
He said: “Generally we kick start the campaign with a bit of PR and we’ve been doing social media activity which gets everyone excited about it. Then it’s a phased approach because we have some customers who want to launch right away and some later in the summer, so we’ve got activity running until September. We’re hoping to see a good levelled-out sales line.
His colleague, Shelley, added: “This has been in the works six months prior to launch. We have a PR team who have helped with this and we collectively come up with ideas. We then decide a budget and create a strategy plan for customers and that will carry through to September. I put this into three phases and ensure there’s enough support for each retailer.”
While lorne sausage and brown sauce is new to the market, the team are already thinking about what it will look like if the constant demand is there, and how they may potentially have to look at adding it to the core range if demand dictates that.
James added: “We did a charity pack with the supporting the Muscular Dystrophy charity and that was the sausage and caramelised onion. That had a brilliant uptake and a couple of our customers asked if we could take it on as an on-going line. Really what we have to be assessing is the performance of each flavour and type of crisp, and there’s maybe some flavours that need a shake-up or replaced. It’s quite difficult to weigh up if a limited edition has legs all year round but I guess that goes on experience. If this was to be received really well and saw some strong sales and feedback, then there is the potential to keep it.
“We’re kind of always working on stuff in the background. There’s always room for these limited editions. They work nicely as it allows you to test different flavours and it’s not something your customers have to commit to day in day out.
“You can develop lots of flavours, there is room for that on retailers shelves, but you have to be realistic on how many new flavours you can make.”
And with Christmas looking to be the next window of opportunity for Mackie’s when it comes to limited edition crisp flavours, the team are already researching and trying out festive flavours – one of which we may be eating in six months time.
James said: “Around Christmas we’re always looking to see what we can do as everyone likes trying new festive flavours and we’re always looking for the next big thing. There are some key seasonal periods.
“We have tried cock-a-leekie soup in the past as well. There’s been a lot of trial and error. Sometimes you can try a flavour and you believe it can work and initially you might not get it right so you tweak the flavour and make sure you do get it to be what it says it will taste like. We’ve had a fair few in there that aren’t particularly great.
“We’re quickly becoming synonymous for our patriotic limited flavours, but with good reason too. As Scots, we’re too quick to put down our traditional foods, but in reality we have amazing produce and dishes we should be fiercely proud of.”
Shelley added: “The one I personally really didn’t like was the black pudding. We just didn’t manage to get the seasoning right. There’s been a few surprisingly good ones too.”
The crisps are available in Scotmid stores now, and will be in Aldi from Monday June 29, Sainsbury’s from July 8 (as part of a 12-week promotion), Tesco from August 20 and SPAR stores later this week. Mackie’s Crisps is also listed on online store, British Corner Shop which sells worldwide.