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Oat so Good
by Lesley Eaton
A Mearns family is breathing new life into one of the North east's oldest traditions.
Medlock & Medlock, the owners of the renowned Oatmeal of Alford, have recently launched a strawberry and hazelnut muesli and line of porridge oats taking the age-old brand firmly into the 21st century – and winning the firm plaudits from the word go.
Based at Mains of Haulkerton near Laurencekirk and with Carol and John at the helm, Medlock & Medlock took over the running of the
Oatmeal of Alford mill at Montgarrie in Aberdeenshire in 1998, continuing a tradition, which is said to have been ongoing at the site since the Bishop of Aberdeen established a mill on the Esset burn in 1317. The base course of the current mill dates back to Jacobite times
Since taking over the business, the current owners have set about consolidating the brand's reputation and have recently breathed new life and won new customers thanks in part to the acquisition last year of Inverness-based Spoff.
Oatmeal of Alford brand development executive Alice Stebbing explained: “In October last year, Medlock & Medlock took on the breakfast and cereal processing company Spoff, including the rights to the name, methods, recipes, packaging and equipment. This gave us the capability to produce Oatmeal of Alford muesli and porridge oats and we immediately set about developing recipes, which were tested by the public all over the UK.
“The eventual winner from the feedback we received was the strawberry and hazelnut muesli we now produce alongside a new line of porridge oats as well as all the types of oatmeal the company is well known for.”
The new additions were officially launched at the Royal Highland Show in June, but even before their official launch, the porridge oats won a Scotland Food and Drink Award in the healthy eating category at this year's awards.
Alice continued: “We have had lots of help and support from Grampian Food Forum in developing the brand and we are very grateful for that. We have also had a brilliant response from the press leading to lots of interest and requests for purchases.
“The Royal Highland Show was a really important platform for us too – we went there basically to raise the profile and came away having done a number of deals, which was brilliant.”
But whilst Oatmeal of Alford is going through significant changes, key factors remain constant. “The method of production is the same and the oatmeal products are the same,” added Alice. “Everything is still made at Alford in the way it has always been and using oats grown in the North East, but we now put it in 25kg sacks and take it to Mains of Haulkerton to be packed and shipped off when it is ready.”
Distribution is worldwide, including the USA to Peters Imports and even to a leading cosmetics brand, who use oatmeal in facial scrubs and the like for export primarily to the USA and Slovenia.
And development doesn't stop there – an online shop has been set up to enable customers to purchase from anywhere at any time and there are already plans to follow up the strawberry and hazelnut muesli and porridge oats with further lines.
Alice concluded: “If the current offerings take off, we hope they will set the scene for more brands, which would be developed to fit with the look and feel of what is already there.”
Medlock & Medlock, started life as a purely agricultural venture and the farming side of the business now extends to 1,500 acres and employs 13 people. The cattle herd comprises 180 head including calves at foot, mainly Saler cross, Highland, Aberdeen Angus, Simmental cross and Shorthorn cross. In addition are organic oats, potatoes and wheat and non-organic barley.
Mearns Transport was established in 1980 initially to cover the company's own product distribution and has grown to comprise a fleet of eight lorries and 13 employees who deal with clients all over the UK.
In 1990, Mearns Organic Trading was added and it includes 5000 chicks per week arriving at Mains of Haulkerton as well as 40,000 hens per week on site at the same location and premises at nearby Fasque. Hens leave at an average of 58 days at 2.5kg for Tesco.
For further information or to buy from the Oatmeal of Alford range, visit www.oatmealofalford.com