Having run a successful milk business for decades, it’s fair to say Jane and Bruce Mackie know a thing or two about the dairy industry.
But it wasn’t until they launched their new yoghurt business Rora Dairy, which has celebrated a year in business, that the pair truly started to understand the needs and demands of customers and the variety of products they would have to produce.
Based at Middleton of Rora, near Peterhead, the live yoghurt Rora Dairy produces has already won an array of awards and is now available as far south as London.
Available in six flavours and two pot sizes, the brand has continuously developed to meet customer and market demands.
Equipped with a pedigree herd of more than 250 cows made up of Holstein Friesian and some Jersey and Norwegian Red cows, the dairy produces well above two million litres of milk every year and has now doubled its yoghurt production too.
Launched in April last year, the couple have been working tirelessly and have successfully produced, developed and marketed their own range of live yoghurts under the Rora Dairy name.
Not only has the company won awards, it has also been recognised for its state-of-the-art shed which has been designed around six core principles of air, light, water, rest, feed and space.
The herd have all the freedom to roam around – and can even choose when they want to be milked!
Creating a healthy snack full of protein and calcium, it’s no surprise the company has been so popular locally and nationally.
How does it feel to be making a new and different product compared to what you’re used to?
My husband Bruce and I started the business on April 1 last year. We started with just the natural yoghurt and in June we added the honey and fruit yoghurts.
All of the fruits we use in the yoghurts are sourced locally from Castleton Farm – they’re great quality and it’s good to be supporting other local producers.
It’s a wonderful feeling to be creating our own products and I’m really enjoying it and we’ve already doubled production from when we first started.
That’s fantastic. How quickly did production increase?
We started making 200l and I would run around the north-east selling it to local shops. The first time I went out I took my youngest son with me and told him we couldn’t go home until we’d sold it all. Luckily for us, we did.
A few months later we’d bought a van and a couple of huge coolers and were delivering across Aberdeen.
Now we deliver directly to our distribution companies – Williamsons of Inverness, the Cress Company and Mark Murphy – who send it to UK farm shops, delis, hotels and cafes.
So why did you decide to venture into the yoghurt market?
When my children were small I gave them a lot of Petits Filous and there wasn’t much alternative.
I started looking at the market and there weren’t many good, healthy yoghurts for children to have so I decided to make my own. I had an aspiration to make a low-sugar healthy yoghurt. I wanted to have no sugar in them at all, but I couldn’t do that because in order to keep the shelf life, the fruit needed sugar.
The natural yoghurt has no additives or sugar in it and I’ve made all the flavours as healthy as I can. We now have large and small tubs with six flavours including blueberry, honey, raspberry and strawberry, as well as the natural and the natural set ones.
How long has the family been in the dairy business?
We’ve been milking cows since 1966. Bruce’s dad Stephen Mackie tenanted the farm and started their dairy herd here. His first parlour was state-of-the-art and the second one we’ve built is just as impressive. We basically do everything from growing some of the cows’ feed to producing our own milk and yoghurt so it’s really rewarding when you see the finished product.
Throughout the winter months the cows mainly stay inside. However, with this new shed our cows can now milk themselves whenever they want and will be able to go in and out of the open space to the fields as they please.
Really? Your cows milk themselves?
Yes they do, actually. We use Lely Robots and everything can be tracked as a result. You can find out anything to do with any of the cows – how much it’s been milked, when it was last milked, you can monitor each and every one and the robots highlight everything to us.
The cows want to be milked, so the fields they stay in aren’t far away so they can come and go easily. We’ve got a bit of Jersey and Norwegian Red, but most of our herd is Holstein Friesians. We’ve got around 250-300 cows, but only 220 milking. They make around 7,000l of milk per day so it can be a very busy place at times, but because the cows milk themselves as they please everything always runs smoothly.
This new technology allows dairy farmers a lot more time to really just care for their animals and make sure they are in the best condition and well cared for. The robots can even detect when the cows are ill. It’s extremely interesting and very handy for farmers.
You’ve invested in an award-winning barn, planted trees around the premises and really care for your animals, clearly animal welfare is important to you.
We look after all of our animals very well. We love our animals and we’re trying to make the best milk to make the best yoghurt, and if we can do that then that’s ideal.
Bruce really cares about wildlife so he’s planted a colossal amount of trees and hedges around the farm. We are now GM-free on all food for the cows, and we’re all about the environment and caring for our animals. He’s a kind man, he cares deeply. We also have solar panels and a wind turbine, too.
We felt by trying to do more for our cows, that they would be more relaxed. They are very calm and happy cows. It’s all about cow comfort these days. We use sand instead of straw as it’s cleaner and reduces contamination. Our shed has won various awards including the As Built category in the Aberdeenshire Innovation, Architecture and Design Awards, which shows how brilliant it is.
Rora Dairy is a start-up in comparison to your milk business, how has it been gradually moving into a new market while working in another?
In the start-up stage of a business costs are high and although we use fully recyclable plastic at the moment, I would love to use cardboard instead for all our packaging. My purchasing power isn’t strong enough yet, but once it is I’ll be making the change.
The Mackie family has been milking cows at the 565-acre Middleton of Rora farm, near Peterhead, since 1966 so we’re well equipped when it comes to producing milk. Moving into a new market has been interesting, but we did a lot of research and it’s something we’d been thinking of doing for a while. The fact that we built a yoghurt dairy says a lot as it was a huge investment, but was vital to do if we wanted to have our own premises on-site.
It sounds like you’ve got a well-oiled operation in place. How much yoghurt do you produce?
We were making yoghurt two days a week, but we’ve been up-scaling to four days a week in the summer months.
I love making a product from our own milk. I really do love saying that we’re delivering real provenance. We’re taking our milk and making another product using other people’s produce, like the Scottish fruit, and creating a fantastic premium product. We’re trying to make the best product with the best ingredients at the best price. I just think, let’s make a great Scottish dairy product.
What’s been the real highlight for you personally?
We’ve achieved a great deal. We’ve taken it from a concept to reality. We’ve built a huge factory especially for the dairy, and the fact that people can now get it across the UK is incredible. The real high is getting to where we are today.
We won best Food Service product in the North East Scotland Food and Drink Awards 2018, which was sponsored by Compass, so we’re hoping to be in a few of their sites in the coming months. We also won a silver award at The Speciality Fine Food Fair and we recently won a gold star in the Great Taste awards for our natural yoghurt.
And what’s next for Rora Dairy?
We should hopefully be in Morrison’s in Aberdeenshire in the coming months, which is very exciting. We’re in Formartines, Hammerton Store, Longley’s Country Store, Raemoir Garden Centre and other independent stores too, which is great. We’ve had so much support locally and we’re now trying to push out across Scotland and further afield.
We really do hope it becomes a well-known national brand and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the brand going forward.