Many have heard of the brand but don't know much about its beginnings in Scotland and the man who founded it – tell us more about Albert Bartlett.
Albert Bartlett was born in 1900 and came over to Scotland from Ireland in 1947, first finding work as a basket weaver on Clydeside. He moved to Coatbridge and, in 1948, in order to earn some extra money to support his growing family, Albert invested £30 in a water boiler and began boiling up beetroot in an old cast iron bath in his garden shed. He began selling this beetroot under the name Scotty Brand – choosing the dog mascot because he is memorable, cute and Scottish and selecting the distinctive dark red because it is the colour of beetroot.
Using only the finest beetroot available, Albert and his sons expanded into pickling beetroot in 'Grimbles Malt Vinegar' and selling it under the name 'Scotty Brand' to the local community for 1 shilling.
Before long, the operation had grown and Albert, along with his two sons, Jimmy and Alex, approached the local authorities to expand their operation at the existing site, then known as Beetroot Road by the local residents. The authorities rejected this plea in favour of a new residential development.
Undeterred, in 1957 Albert purchased what was formerly known as the 'Wheat Holm Bakery' site in Airdrie, which grew into the company's former premises at Watt Street. The site was later to see the first carrots in Britain to be pre-packed into polyethylene bags.
Alex in turn had three sons, Ronnie, Douglas and Alan; Jimmy had one son, David and three daughters Lynn, Mareet and Pamela. In the 1950's the company started selling potatoes, carrots came along in the 60's, then parsnips and onions in the 80's. In 1968, after travelling between Cambridge and Airdrie on a weekly basis to purchase locally grown produce, the family decided to buy a field in the area and farm the land independently. The site they purchased at Great Acre Fen, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire is now the base for the Alan Bartlett company.
Albert passed away in 1970 and the two brothers, Alex and Jimmy, ran the business until the late 1970's, when their sons Alan, Douglas, Ronnie and David took over.
Douglas and David left the business in 1998 and 2003 respectively. Ronnie and Alan continued until 2009, when Ronnie retained the Albert Bartlett business and Alan founded the Alan Bartlett Company, selling root vegetables from his base in Chatteris. Although Albert Bartlett now concentrates on potatoes, it has brought back the original Scotty Brand to sell the best of Scottish provenance food including potatoes, strawberries, coleslaw, soups to name a few.
Ronnie's own children, Alex and Haley are the fourth generation of the family involved in the business. The Albert Bartlett Company today is a progressive family brand, dedicated to providing tasty, wholesome food for proper meal solutions. The company has additional factories in Boston, Norwich, Jersey and offices in Perth and Denver, USA. The company remains family-owned and proudly run from its base in Airdrie and provides 20% of all potatoes eaten in the UK.
The company has seen incredible growth since it was founded over 70 years ago. What were the key milestones over this period?
The company is fiercely committed to providing a branded range of the best potatoes grown in the most responsible way. Key milestones have included innovation developments in washing, packing and packaging such as, being the first company to prepack produce into polyethylene bags. In 2003, the company took a major step forward with the opening of a state of the art facility and head office located at New Monkland, Airdrie. Widely recognised as the most advanced potato packhouse in the UK and Europe, the facility has provided the capability to enhance the business from quality and output perspectives. Around the same time in 2003, the company launched its first branded product (Albert Bartlett Rooster Potatoes) with the Albert Bartlett brand going from strength to strength over the past 17 years.
In addition to fresh potato products, Albert Bartlett has a range of frozen products, which includes Homestyle Chips, Chunky Chips, Fries, Crinkle Cut, Wedges and Roasts, all made with British grown Rooster potatoes.
In addition to its branded lines, Albert Bartlett supplies retail own label products to UK and overseas customers. In 2018, the company opened a new chilled plant at Airdrie. The chilled manufacturing facility produces Albert Bartlett branded products, including chilled chips, and Parmentier potatoes, as well as multiple retailer own label products such chips, mash dishes, potato segments, wedges, croquets, waffles and many other products. Albert Bartlett has invested substantially in its infrastructure, workforce and creating a household brand based on quality and consistency. The company is achieving growth and job creation within a shrinking food category and consolidating production sector.
The Albert Bartlett brand is sold in all major retailers in the UK. Outside the UK, the brand and other products supplied are available in UAE, France, Sweden, Spain, Malta, Central Europe, the US and Canada
How many farmers do you work with and where are they based?
Albert Bartlett potatoes are grown across the UK from the far north of Scotland through the country to Cornwall and across to Northern Ireland and the Island of Jersey with a grower group in excess of 90 farmers. Our main growing locations include Aberdeenshire, Ross-shire, Angus, Fife, Berwickshire, East Lothian and Ayrshire in Scotland; and Lincs, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cornwall in England. Many of our highly skilled, dedicated growers have supplied Albert Bartlett with high quality potatoes for many years for producing our fresh, chilled and frozen products.
The industry at the mercy of the UK weather – how has it fared this year between heatwaves and thunderstorms?
As we all know agriculture is reliant on the weather, perfect growing conditions are what all growers favour, but in reality that does not often happen through the entire growing season.
Beside the pandemic challenges we are all facing, the last potato growing season has had weather challenges, including periods of being too dry and too hot, to periods of excessive rainfall. Potato yields this year have been in line with our 5 year average, but an excessively wet autumn has meant our growers have had a difficult time bringing in the last of the harvest.
Tell me about the role Albert Bartlett played in giving a new lease of life to the popular potato chain Spudulike at the end of last year.
In autumn last year Albert Bartlett purchased the Spudulike brand and moved into the casual dining and 'food-to-go' sector with the reopening of 10 sites across the UK. With Albert Bartlett's heritage, vision and best-in-class potatoes, we're uniquely placed to develop a future-forward offering that resonates with today's consumers. As brand custodians we have the opportunity to revive this well recognised British brand, which is a perfect fit within our business. Despite the Covid-19 challenges we have listened carefully to consumers and consequently have lowered prices and have made a series of enhancements that reflect contemporary tastes and environmentally conscious food choices. Albert Bartlett's commitment to sourcing and using the best quality products including the finest British potatoes from our portfolio, our revised recipes for timeless, healthy classic and competitive pricing strategy will prove successful.
I see Albert Bartlett recently ran a promotional video linking Albert Bartlett Jersey potatoes and ballet, please tell us more.
Scottish ballet dancer Reece Clarke has a long relationship with Albert Bartlett and since 2012 has represented the company as one of our brand Ambassadors. Reece, who grew up locally, along with his three elder brothers all trained at the Janis Ridley School of Dance in Scotland before joining The Royal Ballet School – the first time in the School's history that four boys from the same family have all trained at the School. In 2017 Reece became first Soloist of The Royal Ballet and has danced many leading roles with The Royal Ballet. To help maintain himself at his physical peak, Reece consumes potatoes every week as part of his diet.
Before a show, potatoes will often be his main source of carbohydrates, helping to fuel him throughout the performance.
A natural part of the Jersey Royal potato cycle is in autumn seed potatoes enter a 'dormancy' period and then are awaken ready from planting from January onwards. Albert Bartlett growers on the island of Jersey put a lot of care and attention into these precious little Jersey Royal seed potatoes. Following discussion with Reece it became apparent that Tchaikovsky's legendary 'The Sleeping Beauty' ballet was the natural choice to tell the story of sleeping potatoes that wake up for planting. Reece and his partner on stage and life Fumi Kaneko, who is also a first Soloists with The Royal Ballet, performed sections of 'The Sleeping Beauty' in Albert Bartlett's Jersey factory. In the video, the Jersey Royal seed potatoes are preparing to be tucked in themselves before being woken up ready for planting in the new year.
The link to the video can be found here. Stay tuned for part two when we 'Awaken' our own Sleeping Beauties up again. The sequel will be available on Albert Bartlett's website from early January 2021.
As an expert in this popular dietary staple, can you tell me any interesting facts about potatoes? (surprising facts / historical info / other)
In UK, we consume an impressive 94kg of potatoes per person per year – about the weight of a newborn baby elephant! Potatoes became the first food ever to be grown in space when scientists successfully grew tubers aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1995. Potatoes yield more nutritious food, more quickly and on less land than any other field crop. At least 14% of the UK's entire intake of vitamin C comes from potatoes.
And finally... baked, mashed, roasted, boiled... how do you eat yours?
My preference is for baked and roasted, but then Dauphinois is a family favourite. That's the beauty of potatoes, they have a place in multiple meal occasions, they are tasty, nutritious, diverse, convenient and much more than just a staple food. Thank goodness we have potatoes.
International Development Director, Albert Bartlett UK
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