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World-renowned Scottish sector leads the way



The Herald today publishes a list of Scotland’s top 10 privately-owned businesses, based on figures analysed by accountancy giant Grant Thornton.

The firm compiled the Scotland Limited Report 2024 using the most recent publicly available accounts of Scotland’s best-performing private concerns, as of March 31, 2024, with the ranking based on a hybrid measure of data, including turnover and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA).

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Seventeen of the firms in the top 100 are food and drink companies, and between them turned over £7 billion in their most recent financial years, with an aggregate EIBTDA of £1.12bn. The 17 firms employ a combined 25,976 people and have net assets of £4.4bn, the report found.

William Grant & Sons, which produces spirits such as The Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Hendrick’s Gin, came in at number four in the top 100, with EBITDA of £422m and turnover of £1.72 billion in its most recent accounts. The distiller’s results brought profits back in line with 2019, before the impact of the pandemic and subsequent global supply-chain challenges.

William Grant, which is registered in Dufftown, Speyside, was found by Grant Thornton to have been the fourth biggest firm in Scotland by turnover, EBITDA, and net assets, with the latter valued at £2.03bn.

Fellow Scotch whisky distiller Edrington, which owns The Macallan and Highland Park single malts, was number 5 in the top-100 ranking. The Glasgow-based firm’s most recent accounts show reveal EBITDA of £442m on turnover £1.08bn in 2023. It had net assets of £1.21bn.

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Outside the top 10, the next highest food and drink firm in the ranking was Farmfoods. The frozen food specialist, which has more than 300 shops throughout the UK, was placed in 13th position, following a year that saw it continue to trade profitably despite increasing cost pressures. The retailer’s most recent accounts available at Companies House show that it made a pre-tax profit of £22.2m in the year ended December 31, 2022, up from £20.5m.

Baxters, the long-established Speyside-based canned soup maker, came in at number 20, followed by Ian Macleod Distillers, owner of whisky brands Glengoyne, Tamdhu and Rosebank, at 36. The top 50 also included potato grower Albert Bartlett (40), online butcher JW Galloway (43) and Browns Food Group (48).

Other food and drink companies to make this year’s top 100 are The Albex group (62), United Wholesale Cash & Carry (64), CJ Lang (75), Walker’s Shortbread (76), United Wholesale Grocers (83), Highland Spring (86), BrewDog (88), McQueens Dairies (92), JW Filshill (94), and AG Restaurants (98).

The Grant Thornton report found that only one of the 17 food and drink companies in the top 100 is private equity backed, reflecting the number of large, family-owned groups operating in the sector. Aggregate debt in the food and drink sector was measured at £1.83bn.

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The industry was found to be one of three sectors with the greatest proportion of overseas revenues, alongside manufacturing and engineering, and business support services. More than 40% of revenue generated by food and drink firms was earned overseas, found the report, which said that 12 of the 17 food and drink concerns in the top 100 export to overseas markets.

The report states: “Turnover from overseas markets in aggregate is up 32% during the year, against a backdrop of total turnover for the top 100 up 26%. This indicates that growing international markets remained a key focus for many of Scotland’s largest companies.”

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