A delicious prospect! Caledonian MacBrayne sails into Expo on the crest of a tasty wave
So far, it's been a lip-smackingly good year for the UK's largest ferry network operator, Caledonian MacBrayne.
And to underline this deliciousness, CalMac's stands H7 and 9 at VisitScotland's Expo in Aberdeen, from April 22-23, will showcase just some of the tasty treats available from the Highlands and islands on board its ferries.
In February, the first seven of the company's Mariners Cafes on the 10 major vessels were awarded VisitScotland's Taste Our Best accreditation for their delicious commitment to sourcing Scottish produce, the first ferry company to receive this accolade.
This was followed in March by two more of the ships gaining the Taste Our Best seal of approval and, in April, the company was thrilled and proud to learn that it was the only transport operator to make it to the finals of the Scottish Food and Drink Awards with a nomination in the Scottish Sourcing category.
In another first, the company will hold a series of pop-up tastings during the summer on selected routes to allow customers to appreciate the food which is on offer in the islands, hopefully including Arran Brewery, Colonsay Brewery, Cobbs Cakes, Burns Stewart Distillers and Gigha Halibut.
As well as using Scottish sourced ingredients throughout its menu where possible, CalMac's coffee shops and retail outlets also stock all manner of local produce and goods - from tablet and biscuits, chocolate and tablet, and real ale and whisky, through to local newspapers and gifts.
But there's a much more serious side to all this good grub. Caledonian MacBrayne uses 67 retail suppliers on board its ferries. Of these 62 are from Scotland and 44 of these are from the islands, making CalMac a very serious customer of some small and unique businesses throughout its network. In turn, this offers ferry passengers a great taste of the isles and spreads the word still further about some of Scotland's best produce. And, in cold hard figures, this amounts to a spend with these suppliers of some £5.188 million per annum - a not inconsiderable financial boost.
With 4.65million passengers carried on the ships in 2014 alone - up 1.29 per cent on the previous year - CalMac is committed to serving, selling and promoting these Scottish and island businesses.
As well as the Food and Drink Award nomination, CalMac is proud to have been shortlisted in the Best Sea Carrier category at the National Coach Tourism Awards, in two categories at the Bee's Knees Awards with Greenock Chamber of Commerce - in the Best Performing Large Business and Excellence in Marketing and Communications - and in two categories for the Marketing Society Scotland Awards, in both the Digital, and Tourism and Leisure categories for the 2014 Come Home with CalMac campaign.
The company's ship MV Finlaggan, usually in service on the Islay route and the UK's busiest malt whisky ferry, has received an International Safety Award from the British Safety Council.
"The start of 2015 has been a great one for CalMac," said Head of Commercial Graeme MacFarlan. "From gaining recognition and accreditation for our Mariners cafes, to numerous awards nominations and developing new ways to bring a taste of our network to our customers.
"This is a very important year for CalMac and we look forward to continuing this encouraging trend throughout."
Part of CalMac's commitments to its island and mainland communities is as an economic enabler across various sectors, including the promotion of tourism. And, this year, the company's Go Days Out brochure brings short day trips and activities to the fore.
Making it ever easier for visitors to reach some of the west coast's stunning attractions, nearly all of the packages, which feature island and peninsula destinations throughout the network, roll both ferry travel and access to the venue or activity into one easy package.
And some of this year's brand new highlights include lagoon swimming with seals on Mull, a boat trip to dual-World Heritage Site St Kilda from Uig on the Isle of Skye, the stunning gardens at Ardtornish on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula or a quick hop across to Arran Heritage Museum in Brodick. There's something for everyone.
Notes to editors:
1) Further information about CalMac is available at www.calmac.co.uk
2) Caledonian MacBrayne and CalMac are trading names of CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL). These names are used under licence from Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL). The lion rampant device is used by CFL with the permission of CMAL.