Chewy toffee has long been a firm favourite for all those with a sweet tooth – with the possible exception of dentists - and after several years it’s finally being manufactured commercially again in the Larbert area.
However, the production line for toffee, tablet and fudge at Mrs Tilly’s factory is something that those involved in the now defunct McCowans business in Tryst Road, Stenhousemuir could only have dreamt of.
The family firm, which moved into Central Business Park, Larbert in 2013, prides itself on having one of the most up-to-date confectionery manufacturing systems in the world.
But before buying the extensive new machinery, the decision was always going be centred on who could give the company the automated process it sought to increase production but without losing the hand-finished look for its products that Mrs Tilly’s prides itself on.
Eventually investing £1.3 million in the production line – a large sum of money for any business but even more remarkable when you consider that its first consisted of three large preserving pans on the cooker in the family home in Tillicoultry.
And all that was only 20 years ago. Since then Peter and Elisabeth Paterson, along with sons Blair and Keir, have watched their sweetie business grow to become a household name.
And it is a name that graces supermarket shelves the length and breadth not only of Scotland but also the world.
The packaging with the hint of tartan appeals to the export market which continues to grow, but it is the quality of the Mrs Tilly’s products that ensures the orders keeping coming in.
Blair is managing director of the firm and he said the recipe has not changed since the first bars of tablet were produced two decades ago when his dad combined butter, sugar and condensed milk to get the taste he wanted.
“It is maybe a new process but the end result has not changed and that is something we were determined had to continue,” he explained. “It took the people we were working with a while to understand that while we wanted it to be cut perfectly square, the finished product still had to have the home-made look.
“It was the first time they had done something like this but then our product is very unique. However, it’s turned out well and we’re very happy with our investment.
“Although it is automated there is still very much a hands on approach and a lot of checking is done by looking at the products. That’s where our 36-strong workforce come into their own. The majority of our staff are local and have been with us for some time, and we’re confident that there will be further opportunities for them in the company as we continue to grow.”
The Central Business Park premises provide a perfect location for the confectionery firm and, with butchers Malcolm Allan and bakers Mathiesons as near neighbours, it’s becoming something of a food producers hub.
Blair added: “It’s been a good move for us. Falkirk Council was very supportive when we were looking to relocate here. Purchasing the new machinery now shows our commitment.
“Last year was fantastic for us and all about investment, now we are looking to capitalise on that. We were delighted to attract customers in Japan at the end of last year. They have a very different diet and palate but recognised the quality of our product and have that aspirational consumer we aim to attract.
“We provide an indulgent product which probably doesn’t attract children as much but more someone looking for a treat. However, we are aware of government moves to curb sugar consumption and it is something we are looking at.”
But that’s not an easy task for a company which uses two tonnes of sugar in its production process every single day.
Last year the company signed a contract with German supermarket Lidl, worth a reported six-figure sum, to be sold in all of its 91 Scottish stores under the Caulder’s Confectionery label.
Mrs Tilly’s stocks its own products in the majority of the country’s leading supermarkets and exports to Europe, Canada and the USA.
But later this year it hopes to open up a whole new marketplace through the American shopping channel QVC.
And it will be the real-life Mrs Tilly – Elisabeth Paterson – who will have the task of selling the traditional Scottish fayre of tablet and fudge to the viewing audience.
Ronnie Wilson, commercial manager, said: “They insisted that they wanted her in person and she will be going over to front the sales on TV. It’s a great platform for our products and allows us access to our target markets.”
Mrs Tilly’s has come a long way since the early days in the Paterson’s kitchen, but everyone involved with the firm is determined that the never lose sight of their initial goal to produce a quality product – just like your mum and granny made.