Sweet Little Mystery!
8th April 2019 Paul Andrews
Golden Casket is one of the largest and most innovative confectionery specialists in the UK and has been growing successfully for nearly 60 years with brands dating back to the 18th century.
The business is now run by the second and third generation of the Rae family. Paul Andrews went to meet them to find out more.
It was back in 1959 that the journey began. Douglas Rae, a qualified banker with £100 in his pocket set out to create a business to market confectionery from scratch. His family, friends and colleagues within the banking sector thought he was mad but Douglas had a vision. At that time, young bankers were poorly remunerated and with a young family Douglas was looking for a way to provide for his family and concluding that banking was not the route for him, took the plunge and set up his own business distributing confectionery to the independent retail sector across Scotland literally operating out the back of a van which he christened his Golden Casket.
Within a couple of years, the company moved into its first premises in Greenock with the exclusive rights to distribute the Daintee brands, Kunzle Cakes and Bensdorp confectionery.
Sales grew over the course of the 60’s especially through the Kunzle Cake brand and by 1968, Golden Casket had 12 salesmen and an annual turnover of over half a million pounds.
Then in 1969 Charles Forte acquired Kunzle which was not good news for Golden Casket as it virtually signalled the end of the relationship that had been significant in their growth to date. As Crawford adds, “On acquiring the Kunzle business Forte naturally wanted to have the profitable Scotland operation for himself so in exchange for the Scottish Kunzle business, Forte agreed to give Golden Casket the Scottish agency for Fuller’s, a business that was famous for manufacturing cakes, chocolates and sugar confectionery.”
Fuller’s was a sister company of Terry’s of York which was also owned by Forte. Business continued and soon the team had built up sales to replace the Kunzle sales.
Two years later and another key moment in the history of the business took place, partly as a result of the values and relationships that Douglas and the team had already demonstrated. Terry’s announced that Fuller’s was to be sold with negotiations already taking place with an American manufacturer who saw the acquisition as a route for their own products into the UK market. This was potentially a devastating blow to Golden Casket so Douglas immediately headed to York for talks with the Terry’s board. A deal was struck that resulted in the acquisition of Fuller’s by Golden Casket.
Sales of Fullers Twin Bars and chocolates continued to be manufactured in York and premises had to be found to pack and wrap the Fullers lines in Greenock.
Golden Casket signed a 10 year lease for premises at Fort Matilda in Greenock which had been used formerly as a torpedo factory during WW2. The empty units with broken floors and dirty walls with no electricity were turned into offices and a production and packing facility and in 1972 Golden Casket acquired Campsie Confectionery and brought all their manufacturing equipment to Greenock.
Terry’s were a real asset throughout as they continued to make products during the period of construction, sending people to train the staff in Greenock once the factory was ready and for the first five years after opening continued to help making products to satisfy demand. This support for Douglas and the team was embodied in the words of Terry’s Chairman and Managing Director, Ian Johnston, “who said that ‘big business’ does not have a kindly face?”
In 1976 Golden Casket were approached by old established confectionery manufacturers, Buchanan’s of Scotland, to see if they would be interested in making their extensive range of products under ‘own label’ terms as their Glasgow factory in Shieldhall was being forced to close. As Crawford explains, “I was a bit of a mechanical geek at school and at weekends I was fortunate enough to work with an engineer from the packaging machinery company Rose Forgrove helping him rebuild equipment. That was to be an excellent grounding for the years to come because in 1976 I went into the business to learn the fantastic art of sugar confectionery, manufacturing the unique Buchanan’s lines. This new production boosted the weekly output from our Greenock factory and the Buchanan’s brand became such a significant part of our production that my father negotiated the takeover of Buchanan’s under a unique settlement arrangement that is still in vogue to this day.”
Manufacturing continued to expand with new business being added to the mix and new brands acquired. In 1987, the manufacturing company Fuller’s Ltd was sold to John J. Lees Plc and all production ceased in Greenock. All of the manufacturing equipment was removed from Greenock and set up in the new Fullers factory in Port Glasgow.
Golden Casket were once again a marketing and distribution company concentrating on the Buchanan’s brands which remained under the ownership of Douglas Rae while being manufactured elsewhere.
Sales of Buchanan’s products continued to increase however quality issues and difficulties with supply saw Douglas’s son Crawford leaving his position of Production Director at Fuller’s to start manufacturing once again from scratch at Fort Matilda initially with only 6 members of staff to concentrate on the Buchanan’s products. Two years later the business of Drysdale & Gibb was acquired as it fitted comfortably into the niche market occupied with pride by Buchanan’s.
1995 saw the acquisition of ailing English company, Caramel House Ltd based in Merseyside and the business and production was also moved to Greenock.
Another pivotal moment for the business took place in 1990 with the launch of a new range called ‘Millions’ which was the brainchild of Douglas Rae. Millions, the tiny, tasty chewy sweets, available in different fruit flavours, became an instant success through innovative tube packaging developed on specially modified equipment at Greenock, the Millions brand has grown each year with worldwide sales currently approaching 2000 tonnes per year with further expansion in the pipeline.
At the same time that Millions was introduced the ‘Half Pounders’ range was also launched, an equally important contributor to the growth of the business. The range encompassed more than 60 varieties of sweets, all with the same price for each variety. Half Pounders has become the private retailers ‘own label’ brand and is now only available through the private sector under the £OnePounder brand post metrication.
Further growth came in 1998 with the acquisition of Hills of Hawick whose main product, Hawick Balls, enjoyed a high profile through the constant PR generated by Bill McLaren, the well known rugby commentator.
A further and interesting acquisition took place in the summer of 2006 when Scotland’s oldest confectionery manufacturing company, J. & A. Ferguson Limited of Glasgow was purchased. This business started in 1794 and produced some of the finest chocolates manufactured in the UK.
Each and every year to date the turnover of Golden Casket has increased and it has become one of the most successful confectionery companies, and the largest, in Scotland. Part of the success is undoubtedly down to the entrepreneurial spirit, determination and drive of its founder, Douglas Rae, but he was the first to admit that the success could not be down 'to just one man.' He recognised that the ace card was the fantastic quality and depth of the products and innovation which were produced and headed by his son, Crawford along with his team in the factory as well as recognising the dedication and knowledge of the all the other committed staff, many of whom have worked for the business for years.
As Crawford explains, “We are a tight knit family business. Today my two sons, my daughter, my brother-in-law, cousin and nephew all play vital roles within the business. Our primary focus of servicing the independent retail sector through our sales network remains as strong today as it did back in 1959. Our confectionery is manufactured by our family for your family."
My Father Douglas Rae OBE, sadly passed away in June last year and up until a couple of years ago remained extremely active having given almost 60 years building the company. He was a wonderful father and mentor who is sorely missed."
There were so many highlights in his business life, culminating in his OBE two years ago for services to business and sport and then posthumously having a street in Greenock named after him was great recognition and very special for all of us."
Our philosophy has always been to produce the very best confectionery and to deliver best value and service to our customers. Our people very much buy into our philosophy so it’s no coincidence that 35% of our staff have over 25 years of service with us."
We now employ over 150 talented craftsmen and women across our day and nightshift patterns, across 28 production and packing lines from out A PLUS BRC-Accredited, nut free factory”
Crawford is the second generation of the family to lead the firm which is already looking to the future with three next generation actively involved in the business in sales, production and marketing. The future is on the agenda because as Stuart Rae, third generation Sales Manager explains, “None of us are immortal and we have a broader responsibility to everyone involved. Douglas was an inspiration, he believed he was immortal, working each and every day and sadly passing away recently. He would be proud of how we are moving the business forward and it is important to plan for the future too. We all have clear roles and responsibilities which helps to ensure that everyone knows what they are responsible for, and whilst our heritage is important and helps top define who we are as a family firm, the future is what really matters. We continue to invest in new plant and machinery and are excited about the continuing journey for the business too.”
This is a true gem of a family business, a ‘treasure trove of sweet treats’ with innovation at the heart of all they do. Part of their unrivalled success is undoubtedly due to the determination and entrepreneurialism of the Rae family to continue the business that was set up by Douglas Rae back in 1959, marrying tradition and modernity. This is a family business at the heart of the Inverclyde community, a business that strives to be the best and one that continues to be innovative and push boundaries, investing for the future with a perfect balance of the old and the new paving the way for years to come.
As Crawford concludes, “We are proud to be a family owned, family run manufacturing business based in Greenock and it is great to see the next generation already actively involved in all that we do. You would be forgiven for thinking we are an old fashioned company. Certainly, our values are traditional but great attention is paid to keeping the taste and quality consistent and we are always full of new ideas, looking forwards all the time. Innovation is at the heart of our business and we look forward to continuing the business in line with the values, drive and aspiration upon which we have been built by our founder, investing, modernising and making sure we remain fit for purpose for the next generation and beyond.”