Having a hand in everything is key to success
When customers from as far afield as Los Angeles request your Ullapool-produced goods by name, you know you must be doing something right.
But for salmon producer Wester Ross, now in its 34th year, the success of the business is not down to a global clientele – it is the result of responsible, sustainable husbandry and sheer hard work.
“The way we manage our business is a very labour intensive way of doing things,” explained managing director Gilpin Bradley.
“We hand rear our fish throughout their life cycle, which improves welfare standards and encourages a culture of responsibility. It is a good culture to ingrain, it works extremely well and most importantly, the difference is noticed and appreciated by our long-established customers.
“Real people look after our salmon, which makes a significant difference – as a salmon producer, we have a premium position in the market”.
As well as being hand reared, the salmon are also fed with the most sustainable diet feed available in the industry which is made from trimmings of fish that have been caught for human consumption.
“The feed is made exclusively from trimmings of fish already caught, which promotes sustainability and that’s very important to us.”
Despite a worldwide customer base which includes Italy, France, Switzerland (the company’s largest export market outside the UK), Thailand, Hong Kong and the United States, the Highland market is at the heart of the company’s operations.
With a turnover in 2010 of £8.2 million and employing 55 staff, 35 of whom are based in Ullapool, Wester Ross Fisheries is the largest private sector employer in the village.
That commitment in Ullapool looks set to continue, as earlier this year the company was successful in its grant application to Highlands and Islands Enterprise to upgrade the existing seawater infrastructure and expand production capacity.
The financial support from HIE will allow the development of a second pen group at Ardessie, increasing production capacity by 25 per cent, increasing further the significant economic benefit to the Ullapool area by securing current employment levels and creating additional employment opportunities.
The firm has also joined the Ullapool Tourist and Business Association, and will use the organisation’s logo on its products to promote the town around the world.
“It’s a good complimentary activity and hopefully will generate more visitors to the area,” Mr Bradley said.
But it is not just about providing employment in the Highland economy – it is about selling products to the local market.
“We try to sell as much as we can to customers in the Highlands and Islands: 35 per cent of current turnover is a significant value in the Highlands.
“We sell to salmon smokers – large and small – in the area so there is a two-fold employment benefit on the local economy, the impact of growing the fish locally and the impact of further processing.
“We try to keep as much value in the Highlands as possible, and we’re keen to support smaller businesses.
“Supporting local outlets is important to raise the profile of one of the Highlands’ biggest industries.”
Local customers range from restaurants and local shops to fishmongers and wholesalers.
They include Loch Fyne, Ullapool Smokehouse, Summer Isle Smokers, Uig Lodge in the Western Isles, Andy Race Ltd, Mallaig, the Storehouse of Foulis, Geddes Free Range, Nairn, Country Larder, Inverness, and the Highland Good Food delivery van.
The company also supplies its products to specialist fishmongers across the UK, but particularly in the south of England.
“We select clients that promote our name and understand what’s different about our salmon,” Mr Bradley said.
“There is an increasing demand for transparency in the food chain, and people eating our salmon know where it’s from and how it’s been grown.”
However, customers in the Highlands who buy their salmon steak from their local fishmongers are assured it is exactly the same as would be found on a dinner plate in the finest restaurant at the other end of the country or further afield.
Mr Bradley added: “Customers in the Highlands will always get the same quality of salmon from us as customers in the rest of the country. That’s important to us.”