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Seeded cracker mix displayed on a table

Highland Crackers

How joining the Highland Food & Drink Innovation Network is helping Highland Crackers make strategic moves

Donna Peacock beside a river

Donna Peacock founded Highland Crackers in 2014

The Highland Food & Drink Innovation Network (HFDIN) was set up in 2020 to inspire and assist the amazing array of food and drink companies based in the region. This Northern Innovation Hub project, delivered by HIE, brings together businesses and industry experts with the aim of improving productivity, promoting collaboration, and identifying opportunities for growth.

One of its members is Donna Peacock, an Inverness-based foodie who is passionate about creating delicious products from the nutrient-dense ingredients she sources as locally as possible. Her entrepreneurial journey began when she started making bottles of cordial featuring unusual flavours and foraged ingredients. As the business grew, Donna faced challenges linked to transportation costs and the seasonal availability of ingredients so Donna began to consider other products that could be more easily scaled. She settled on developing a savoury cracker that could sit on the shelves of farm shops and delis, offering consumers an alternative to oatcakes while still showcasing the best of the Scottish supply chain. Donna quickly established Highland Crackers as a high-quality, artisan product.

Donna putting crackers into the oven

The benefit of having a business network

Donna says, “I had a rethink and went into baking. There were lots of people doing cakes, so I wanted to provide something savoury. I heard about beremeal flour from Orkney, which I was very interested in using, and the first incarnation of my Original cracker was born.”

With five awards under its belt, Highland Crackers is going from strength to strength. To this day, every cracker is hand-finished, with the only automation coming from a set of rollers that help flatten the cracker mix prior to baking. Donna works from her converted garage which now houses a commercial kitchen and a storeroom. As a company of one, she takes care of everything from product development to marketing. Developing a network of knowledgeable people to speak to about her business is one of the reasons Donna joined the HFDIN. When asked what she wishes she’d known when starting out, Donna cites understanding the importance of having that support network in place. She says:

“When I started out, I enjoyed making all of the decisions on my own. It felt exciting and empowering. But as time has gone on, I’ve realised how valuable it is to have somebody to talk over ideas with and to point out other ways of approaching something.”

Donna Peacock in apron

Access to industry experts

By joining the HFDIN, Donna has had access to industry experts Neil MacCallum and Nataliia Hinde who, along with our senior innovation manager, Caroline MacLellan, have become trusted sources of advice and information.

“They understand the way I think and my vision for Highland Crackers, which is invaluable”, says Donna. “They have a network of contacts they can introduce me to, they send useful articles my way and flag up opportunities for me to pursue. They are all very approachable and their knowledge and experience are incredibly helpful to me.”

The network is a great platform for collaboration: it’s almost like an incubator. I’m certain that new ideas will come out of it.
Donna Peacock, Highland Crackers

Donna Peacock rolling cracker dough

Making the most of HFDIN events

As well as fostering these connections, Donna has taken advantage of other development opportunities offered via the HFDIN. She has attended an interactive webinar on promoting food and drink products online, and a Zero Waste Scotland event about the circular economy, which paved the way for a transition to more eco-friendly packaging.

At the HFDIN events that she’s attended so far, Donna has appreciated the ad-hoc conversations that spring up between the attendees.

“Conversations can go in surprising directions”, explains Donna. “One random comment can trigger a thought in other attendees’ minds - and that’s how collaboration is born. The network is a great platform for that to happen: it’s almost like an incubator. I’m certain that new ideas will come out of it.”

Crackers on a slate with cheese

Award-winning new product

Donna will be turning to the HFDIN for support as she works to promote her newest product: a gluten-free, FODMAP-friendly seeded cracker mix that people can bake at home with the addition of only one store cupboard ingredient. The development of the Seeded Cracker Mix was supported by our innovation team in the form of a Small Innovation Grant, which provided Donna with consultancy, testing and initial specialist accreditation. It’s already won a Highly Commended award at the Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards - something she was encouraged to apply for by the HFDIN - and been shortlisted in three categories at the Nourish Awards 2021.

The Highland Food & Drink Innovation Network is new and evolving: now is a great time to join and ask the questions that you think are important for the industry as it stands. As Donna says, “You could shape it! Become part of the discussion.”

To find out more about the HFDIN, including information on how to join, visit hie.co.uk/hfdin 

About the HFDIN

The Highland Food & Drink Innovation Network is a Northern Innovation Hub project run by HIE that supports food and drink companies across the region to promote and develop new collaborations, identify opportunities for growth, improve productivity and access new markets.

About the Small Innovation Grant 

Our Small Innovation Grant is 100% funded to the first £5k of costs and 50% funded to a maximum of £15k. To find out more, visit hie.co.uk/innovation.

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