A young farmer from the north of Scotland has transformed his family’s small-scale meat firm into an on-farm butchery and catering business. Katrina Macarthur reports.
Angus Forbes, better known as Gus, from Little Kildrummie, Nairn, returned home from university four years ago and took over the reigns of Forbes Farm Fresh, which his parents Stephen and Lynn established 12 years ago.
Just recently, the 27-year-old’s enthusiasm and hard work was recognised when he was crowned the winner of the NFU Mutual and Scotland Food and Drink Inspirational Young Person Award – an accolade which is designed to recognise the talent and dedication of Scotland’s young people within the food and drink sector.
The Forbes Farm Fresh name was founded almost 45 years ago when Stephen’s late father, Sandy, used to keep free-range hens for selling eggs at the bottom of the farm road.
Fast forward a few decades and the family decided to sell home-reared, quality assured meat in a farm shop at a local garden centre, before bringing the business back home and establishing their online shop.
They employed a part-time butcher and attended the local farmers’ market in Inverness and did hog roasts and barbecues at local events. Lynn, who is a full-time midwife, says: “We didn’t have anybody working full-time for Forbes Farm Fresh and we were so busy doing other things, so when Gus returned home in 2015 it was the perfect opportunity for him to strengthen the business.”
Initially, Gus was an employee in the business and was trained by the family’s part-time butcher. He completed a modern apprenticeship in butchery through Scottish Meat Training and soon after was at the helm of the business with help and advice from his parents.
The business has now become more retail focused as opposed to wholesale and includes an online shop which Gus developed three years ago.
It includes a home delivery service and offers special packs and sale offers.
Gus says: “I work closely with abattoir John M. Munro, Dingwall, and carry out all of the butchery work and packing at our small butchery cabin at the farm.
“On average, 20 cattle from the farm are butchered here every year which includes private kills for local farmers. If we are running low on supply, we source local, quality assured produce or buy from John M Munro.”
The mixed farming enterprise at Little Kildrummie is very much a key part of Forbes Farm Fresh, with about 160 cattle and 850 lambs finished every year. They run a commercial suckler herd of spring and autumn calving Limousin cross and Simmental cross cows which are bulled to either the Limousin, Simmental or Aberdeen-Angus.
The breeding sheep flock includes Mule, Texel cross and Suffolk cross ewes. Progeny is finished on-farm and sold between the butchery and ABP, while a handful are sold through the store ring at Dingwall and Highland Marts’ Dingwall Centre. The family previously ran a herd of 65 outdoor sows but, due to the requirement of a full-time member of staff, they have since been sold and the Forbes family now buys-in about 30, five-week-old Large White cross and Hampshire pigs from a local producer.
They are finished indoors on straw courts at five months of age and sold to Scottish Pig Producers at 70kg deadweight.
Gus says: “It’s the first time in our family’s 90-year history that we have had pigs on the farm, so it was a steep learning curve at the start.
“Outdoor farrowing requires long hours so the move to bringing in weaners is definitely a better option for us. We are also able to make better use of shed space which had previously been underutilised and the pigs make good use of the cereals grown on the farm.”
The family are fairly self-sufficient when it comes to food for the livestock as all the animals are fed with homegrown cereals and protein, including silage, barley and beans. The only ingredient they buy is soya for the pigs.
Gus says: “By using our own homegrown crops to feed the animals, we take pride in providing our customers with what they are buying and can ensure complete traceability and the highest standards of animal welfare. “It’s not every day that the farmer who feeds the livestock also delivers the final product to your door.”
Most Forbes Farm Fresh customers are fairly local and within 40 miles of Nairn, which is exactly the family’s target consumer. However, Gus says that if the business could branch out to the whole of the country and possibly abroad, it would be hugely valuable in promoting their Scotch beef, Scotch lamb and specially selected pork. While the butchery and meat retail business continues to be a great success, it is the catering side of Forbes Farm Fresh which Gus has driven forward in the past two years, having only initially offered their popular hog roasts and barbecues.
Impressively, their catering enterprise has added huge value to Forbes Farm Fresh and has gone from doing about five local outdoor events per year to at least 30 events each year, including weddings, parties, community and corporate events.
Cooking and all food preparation take place in a prep room away from the house and casual staff are brought in to help and wait tables, with usually four to six additional staff working at an event.
“The outdoor catering at local events has transformed massively and we now have weddings booked in for this year,” says Gus, pointing out that they catered for 200 guests at their first wedding.
“We can now offer the full works for events, including canapes and three course meals, and my sister just recently established a florist business named Blooming Lovely Flowers, which will hopefully work well alongside the catering enterprise.”
Although Forbes Farm Fresh continues to be a successful diversification project away from the farm, Gus is honest about the difficulties of running such a business.
“It’s difficult to compete with supermarket prices and people are always looking for a bargain, even if the meat quality isn’t good or the origin and traceability is unknown,” says Gus.
“The general public needs to remember that businesses like ours are supplying home-reared, quality assured meat that is produced here on our farm using homegrown feed.”
The Inverness farmers’ market held the first Saturday of each month is still a key marketplace for the business, attracting old and new customers, some of which have been buying produce from Forbes Farm Fresh since the very beginning.
Looking ahead, Gus hopes to secure capital, or a Governmentfunded grant to build a new butchery and packing unit, with a dry aged hanging chiller. During summer, the butchery cabin is at its maximum capacity for storing produce so a new and improved cabin would be extremely beneficial to the business.
Gus says: “As much as I would like to take all the credit, the business wouldn’t be in the position it is today without the help of my family. We’re quite literally the definition of a family-run business and although I’m at the forefront, my family, especially my mother and father, put in endless amounts of hours.”