From left: Aloia Seafood salespeople Giandomenico (Nico) Aloia, Maria Francesca Sabatino, and Roberta Romana with a Wester Ross plaque and Wester Ross fish boxes next to their booth at Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona last month.

Boxing clever in Italy

Putting salmon in a wooden crate is helping to set a Scottish company’s fish apart in a demanding market, says importer


Nico Aloia has no doubt about the quality of the salmon he gets from niche producer Wester Ross Fisheries.

“When you eat it, there is a difference between Norwegian salmon and Wester Ross. Not everyone is an expert, but it is easy to tell. Often, the Norwegian salmon is slimy,” says Aloia, whose family firm Aloia Seafood is the Scottish farmers’ exclusive distributor in Italy.

But it's not just the quality of the fish that matters to Aloia, it’s the package it’s delivered in. Wester Ross’s fish come in polystyrene boxes, as normal, but these are fitted inside branded wooden crates. And when you’re selling fish that can cost between €2 and €4 more per kilo than salmon from Norway, that branding is more than a gimmick.

Product identification

The "extremely distinguishable identification of the product” matters in the marketplace, says Aloia, who is the fifth generation of his family to sell fish for a living, and works alongside his father, Riccardo, and sister, Francesca, as part of the sales team.

“You can’t confuse Wester Ross with other products. It is unique. We have had good success in putting the product in the market, especially in the centre north of Italy. It is a place where this kind of product is really appreciated.

Italians appreciate the wooden box. The marketing is very important. People want different products and Wester Ross has a story to tell.

Distributor Nico Aloia

“The fish market in Milan has no sea but you have the best fish in Italy, and Wester Ross fish is in Milan.”

The price difference is not a barrier in the markets that Aloia Seafood targets from its bases in Milan and Naples.

“There are excellent markets all over Italy that want to distinguish themselves,” explains Aloia, who was speaking to Fish Farming Expert at Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona last month.

A story to tell

“You have to pay for quality. Also, Italians appreciate the wooden box. The marketing is very important. People want different products and Wester Ross has a story to tell. The fishmongers like to display the box.”

Aloia Seafood started selling small quantities of Wester Ross salmon but has built up a solid, if modest, market for fish from the Scottish farmer, which produces around 2,000 tonnes of salmon annually.

“You have to have a lot of passion to sell Wester Ross. In the beginning it was not easy, you have to explain what it is, put in a lot of time and effort,” says Nico Aloia.

“We are currently selling 2-3 tonnes per week, as prices are high, but we have reached 15 tonnes in a week.”

Exclusive deals

Wester Ross Fisheries is now owned by the world’s biggest salmon farmer, Mowi, but has been “ringfenced”, says Wester Ross managing director Gilpin Bradley, who formerly owned the company. This allows him to continue running the company and agree more exclusive distribution deals like the one with Aloia Seafood.

“We have gentleman’s agreements for geographical exclusivity,” says Bradley, who is delighted with the way the Italian partnership has worked.

“We select the right distributor. We work like that around the world.”

The Wester Ross team in Barcelona. From left: Gilpin Bradley, Keith Bertram (sales), Gillian Osborne (marketing and communication), and Morgan MacKay (fish farmer). Marketing initiatives include the company's own tartan, which all four are wearing.