A Caithness family bakers says that winning Scotland's top prize in the prestigious national Great Taste Awards felt like winning the Scottish Cup.
At the glittering awards on Monday night at Fortnum & Mason in London, the Reids of Caithness team were on the edge of their seats as the live scoring took them into the top eight in the chase for the UK supreme champion. While not quite taking that home this year they are delighted to have won the Scottish Speciality regional award, sponsored by Scotland Food & Drink, and to have been the only UK company this year to achieve three stars for its shortbread.
Gary Reid, who runs the business side of the bakery, says it was the greatest night of their lives. "The whole event was spectacular. Finalists' products were set out for the guests to try and we couldn't believe our shortbread was there piled high on a glass showcase cabinet. We even met renowned food critic Charles Campion, most recently famous for Masterchef, who was one of the judges. We are just so honoured to have achieved this and its thanks to all the hard work of our mum and dad who built the business, my brother Graeme and all the staff at Reids."
The annual event, considered by trade to be the food and drink 'Oscars', is judged by the Guild of Fine Food. Its director Bob Farrand commented: "This year, 100 products out of 6027 entries were awarded the ultimate 3-stars, so to be the Best Scottish Speciality really puts into perspective how much of a wow factor Reid's of Caithness All Butter Shortbread has."
Reids Bakery was set up in Castletown in 1963 by Donald and Joyce Reid, and now the business has a base in Thurso at Riverside and a café and shop in the High Street. It is very much a family affair with Donald being joined by his sons Graeme and Gary.
Gary said: "For us it's like winning the Scottish Cup. The fact that we came so close to supreme champion has inspired us to come back next year with some more of Graeme's amazing creations. We are absolutely delighted to have received this kind of recognition at what is considered to be the top UK food and drink awards in the country. We work really hard to create great quality products and the feedback we get from our customers and the awards we have received is giving us the confidence to keep developing our business."
He added: "The shortbread recipe was created by Graeme who develops all our products. He is a naturally gifted baker and seems instinctively to be able to find just the right mix on the whole range of Scottish products we make. He's been doing this since he was a boy and we at Reid's think we have one of the top bakers in Britain. One day we'd love to see him judging events like this himself. Father has helped Graeme with his baking and we are very grateful for the years of dedication our parents put in. We are supported by a committed team at the bakery and Graeme is delighted that we have some truly gifted young bakers coming through with us too."
The award has important implications for the future of the business. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) works with the Reids as it develops and grows. HIE development officer Morag Goodfellow is delighted to see another award come to the business. "Reids of Caithness is a perfect example of the kind of Highlands and Islands business which puts its quality and customers at the heart of everything they do. HIE is working closely with them to help them look at all aspects of their work which will help them grow, from manufacturing, to product development, to marketing and distribution. We want as many people as possible get to hear about and share in their great products."
She added: "These awards coincide with London's Speciality and Fine Food Fair where the business was showcasing biscuits and loafcakes, from only one order Reids is potentially looking at providing 80,000 packets of shortbread. There was also significant international interest, particularly from Japan. To have received a regional award on top is definitely the icing on the cake in allowing them to market the quality of their produce. The three gold stars they achieved means that the judges thought their product was faultless."
The business' products are sold locally and through regional and national suppliers. There is a loyal customer base and the high quality of the products has attracted previous recognition. In 2008 the bakery won two gold Taste awards for their production of biscuits for Mey Selections. Last year they won a gold Taste award for their Treacle & Toffee biscuit, along with the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink new product award.