The Café Brontë brand of luxury cookies, indulgent biscuits and traditional shortbread bars was launched at London’s Caffè Culture show in late May and has already secured listings with two out of three of the country’s leading wholesalers. And according to the Livingston firm’s managing director Alan Hardie: "We expect all three to have the brand by the end of the year."

The launch of the Café Brontë concept was largely in response to the recent huge growth in branded coffee shops and complementary food products. In effect, the products represent an evolution of Paterson Arran’s existing range and are designed to meet demand from consumers who are prepared to pay premium prices for a comfort or indulgent treat.

Hardie says the company has identified "a huge market for places where coffee is consumed", not just the familiar "coffee shops with armchairs" but also, for example, airports and hospital waiting areas. And, worthy of note, Café Brontë soft cookies have already earned a listing on British Airways’ flights within Europe.

A mammoth 27 new products were launched on day one of the Café Brontë venture, including seven varieties of Soft Chewy Cookies, namely: White Choc Chunk; Apricot & Coconut; Milk Choc Chunk & Orange; Cranberry; Dark Choc Chunk & Stem Ginger; and milk and dark chocolate-coated Fruit & Oat Cookies. Also in the Café Brontë range, rich-textured Shortbread Bars with a 37% butter content are available in Cranberry, All Butter and Choc Chunk. Finally, the choice of Dunking Delights indulgent biscuit bars encompasses: Oat & Raisin; Double Choc Chip; Ginger Snap; Cinnamon Snap; Fruit Shrewsbury; and Choc Chip & Orange.

All the above products are ambient, GM-free, made from nut-free recipes and suitable for vegetarians. The cookies and shortbread products are sold in 60g ’to go’ and 120g ’fresh-serve’ formats, while the Dunking Delights are available only as a ’to go’ product, with each packet containing two bars of 30g apiece. ’Fresh serve’ products are individually film-wrapped for freshness although, according to Paterson Arran’s research, sales have been found to improve by an average of 30% if the retailer removes the wrapper, probably because plated, packaging-free presentation conveys a more tempting home-baked look.

Recognising the fact that many coffee sales outlets are small and have severely limited storage space, all formats are supplied 24 to an outer case; Paterson Arran also provides compact display systems. And, for added convenience, products can be ordered via the internet ( as well as through wholesalers.

Of course, the Brontë name is not new to the baking world. In the 1960s, a wire-cut cookie business established itself at Haworth in Yorkshire and took the name of the village’s famous literary family; the company was subsequently acquired by the group which, at that time, owned Paterson Arran. Now independent, the Livingston firm has continued to grow the Brontë biscuit brand in the foodservice sector and so opted to use the name for its new Café concept because it was already very familiar to the prospective client base.

British Airways’ emergence as an early test-bed for Café Brontë products also owes something to historical linkage: several decades ago, Paterson Arran’s production facility off Scotland’s west coast won the contract to supply the salad dressing for business class passengers travelling on Concorde.

The Brontë brand has become "the biscuit of choice" for the higher end of the hotel bedroom and conferencing market, according to Hardie. The biscuits are also sold at other mass locations, such as airports, while the Brontë brand’s Giant Cookies are particular favourites within the university sector. According to Café Brontë marketing manager Debbie Ballach, the new collection provides a point of difference from the existing cookie and muffin-type products on the market. Indeed, in tests conducted at a range of outlets including coffee houses, garden centres and hospitals, sales of an initial dozen Café Brontë goods exceeded muffin sales by up to 85% and were, in many cases, incremental to muffin sales, she reveals. The feedback was so encouraging that Paterson Arran more than doubled the number of Café Brontë products that it had been planning to launch. And, with new product development ongoing, additions are certain to be made to the range.

health benefits of oats

This highly-focused bid to tap into the UK’s burgeoning café culture is not the only bold move made of late by Paterson Arran. Some five years ago, the company dispensed with the traditional tartan packaging for its renowned oatcakes and repositioned the product by putting the emphasis on health benefits. Oats are well-known as a source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium, and also as a foodstuff which helps lower cholesterol. However, Paterson Arran has boosted the appeal of oatcakes to health-conscious consumers by reducing saturated fat levels in its products from around 8% to below 3%. The company has completely ruled out the use of hydrogenated fats and is also exchanging palm oil for "less saturated, sustainable olive oil". In fact, palm oil is to be eliminated from the business.

The company’s oatcakes are now marketed with the slogan ’Tradition with a Twist’ to underline that this most traditional of Scottish products now comprises a Mediterranean ingredient; while the health issue was the major driver behind the switch to olive oil, the decisive move away from palm oil has provided the company with a largely unexpected public relations fillip. Over the last couple of years, there has been a growing awareness of the adverse effects of clearing Asian rainforests to make way for palm oil plantations. It has been estimated, for example, that 80% of suitable orang-utan habitat has been wiped out over the last two decades. Thus, Paterson Arran finds itself in the somewhat unusual position of being able to claim that its oatcakes are orang-utan friendly. The company has even gone as far as to adopt a seven-year-old orang-utan called Etin, who lives in the eastern Sabah region of Malaysia.

The company has advanced its environmental credentials still further by achieving a 13% reduction in energy consumption over recent years and by reducing packaging waste - for example, through eliminating the use of internal plastic trays in some of its boxed product lines.

Since adapting its recipe five years ago, Paterson Arran has witnessed "accelerating growth in oatcake sales", says Hardie. "Our share of the market has doubled since we made the switch to the healthy position." A significant proportion of this growth has come in England where, according to the company, the health benefits of oats have become much more widely appreciated over recent years. Paterson Arran’s customer list now reads like a Who’s Who of major multiple retailers and leading foodservice companies.

In line with this market growth, the company has invested heavily in new product development. The range now features eight varieties, extending from the traditional Scottish oatcake through Organic Oatcakes to its recently-launched Cheese & Mild Chilli Oat Bites, which can be eaten straight from the box, with a dip, or used as canapés.

Constant product innovation is also evident in other areas of the business. A range of palm oil-free Scottish Slimmers Cookies, containing less than 3% saturated fat, were launched towards the end of last year under the Brontë brand, while the company’s shortbread range has been extended with the addition of Heritage and Mini Shapes.

And earlier this year, Paterson’s Cheese and Mild Chilli Oat Bites won a silver medal in the Savoury Cocktail Snacks category of the Great Taste Awards run by the Guild of Fine Food Retailers. n


=== At a glance ===

Business name: Paterson Arran

Headquarters: The Royal Burgh Bakery, Livingston

Brief history: In 1995, exactly a century after its formation by the Paterson family, the company became the subject of a management buy-out led by managing director Alan Hardie and finance director Ian Appleton, who still co-own the business

Directors: Alan Hardie and Ian Appleton (see above); John McBurnie, operations director; Allan Miller, sales director

Annual turnover: Approximately £13m

Key products: Oatcakes and shortbread (approximately 45% of turnover); Brontë traditional biscuit brand (45%); Arran-produced speciality mustards, preserves, chutneys and marmalades (10%)

Sales split: 92% UK and 8% export - to more than 20 countries including the USA and Japan

Capacity: 20 million pieces per week

Number of employees: 180