AMID continued debate about the impact supermarkets have on small firms we hear from an entrepreneur who decided not to continue with a deal to supply one of the majors.


Gareth Downie.



What is your business called?

West Coast Foods.

Where is it based?

We have a manufacturing site in Ayr, a high-end retail outlet in Prestwick and ecommerce channels skinnirange and westcoastfoods.

What does it produce?

A comprehensive range of locally sourced meat products, including beef, lamb, chicken and pork. We deal in traditional butchery and age our meat ourselves.

Our Skinni range consists of 14 healthy lo-fat, high protein and soon-to-be gluten free meats.

To whom does it sell?

The retail side sells through the Prestwick outlet and direct to the public online. This accounts for some 50 per cent of our output. We also supply a range of multiples, particularly CJ Lang which distributes to Spar stores in Scotland. We work with wholesalers such as Booker, which has just been taken over by Tesco and we are in active negotiations with Morrisons and with Nisa, which supplies 3000 convenience stores throughout the UK.

What is its turnover?

£1 million. This could easily double in the next accounting period when contracts under discussion come to fruition.

How many employees?

Fifteen, though this increases at times of peak demand. We currently are working day and nightshifts and are on the point of introducing a third shift to meet demand.

When was it formed?

2012. I had dealings with a master butcher who was in retail and when I analysed the market I saw that sustainable growth and great economies of scale could be made in quality meat supply through innovative marketing and online sales. I took on his shop and, from there, started to expand the manufacturing side of the business.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I am a Chartered Accountant and worked with EY in London, the Channel Islands and Edinburgh. I fronted an e-commerce start-up and I consulted with Lloyds and HBOS in corporate real estate, debt recovery and business recovery.

Why did you take the plunge?

I saw a tremendous opportunity to create a disruptive business along the lines of Uber, PayPal and Asos. In 2012, it felt hardly anyone was promoting quality food online, despite the fact that it is a product which everyone consumes every day. I revamped and refurbished the Prestwick shop so that it is more like the retail experience in London or the West End of Glasgow. We were entering an era in which people wanted to know the provenance of their food - especially after Horsegate [when some burgers were contaminated with horse meat] - and all our meat, including venison, comes from the rolling hills of Ayrshire.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

The business has been self-funded from savings, but we also won a Scottish EDGE award, for budding, homegrown entrepreneurs. It was a £50,000 grant and a £50,000 loan and it gave us the boost we needed to scale the business up.

What was your biggest break?

Going into business in 2013 with CJ Lang. They actually approached us following publicity about one of our products - the world’s first fat-free square slice sausage. The next year we signed up with Aldi and that was another game-changing moment.

What was your worst moment?

In September we decided not to continue with Aldi, despite the fact we had become the longest-standing brand in the supermarket’s Scottish stores. We had built our custom with them from £50,000 a year to £500,000 a year. We had to end it for a variety of reasons, including their wish to sell our products under their branding. It was a tough call, to walk away from a £500,000 contract, but it was the right one. The growth in our online business has made up most of the shortfall already.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love being at the helm of a fast-moving SME. It’s not like a major company, top-heavy with management, which can take months to make a decision. We are fast on our feet and we can react swiftly to trends in food, which change all the time. We can launch a new product in seven to 14 days. We are actively looking at opportunities in the Middle East.

What are your ambitions for the business?

We have proved the concept and now we want to scale it up. Our e-commerce platform is working and delivery systems are constantly evolving. We have partnered on UK deliveries with DPD which, like us, is constantly pushing the technology. They are pioneering one-hour time slots and customers can choose the time which suits them for delivery on our website. On European deliveries we work with UPS; we put produce out at 5pm and it is in Gothenburg, Athens or Berlin at 8am the next day.

What are your top priorities?

Buying in the right skill sets. I want to increase highly skilled employment in Ayrshire. However, while this is a butchery business, I am an accountant and finance is first and foremost. In line with the clean eating aspect of our produce, we are also moving away from non-recyclable polystyrene packaging and we are developing our own temperature-controlled delivery systems.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

My experience with Scottish Enterprise and other enterprise agencies has been time-consuming and a bit frustrating. We move fast when the need arises but they seem tied to procedures and unable to react to a fluid situation.

How do you relax?

Relax? What's that? Any time that I am not trying to build the business, I spend with my partner and my lovely two-year-old daughter.