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The small salmon farmer has nearly doubled exports in three years. Photo: Wester Ross Fisheries
The small salmon farmer has nearly doubled exports in three years. Photo: Wester Ross Fisheries

Salmon farmer Wester Ross Fisheries has outlined the impressive overseas success that led it to be named Exporter of the Year at the 2018 Highland Business Awards in Inverness last Friday, where aquaculture suppliers Gael Force Group and MacGregor Industrial Supplies Ltd also triumphed.

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“Our exports have increased significantly over the last three years. We’ve gone from 40% export to 75% export,” said managing director Gilpin Bradley.

The niche producer, which grows about 2,000 tonnes of salmon per year, says the United States is its biggest single customer outside the domestic market, but it also sells to Japan, China, Singapore and the Middle East.

‘Strong loyalty’

“We’re very focused on the market that we want to target. Wherever we get the greatest engagement with distributors in terms of promoting our brand, then that’s where we focus, and we’re building up a good, strong loyalty. That’s important,” said Bradley, who said Wester Ross was concentrating on markets outside Europe because the salmon price was more stable.

Gilpin Bradley: Focused on exports.
Gilpin Bradley: Focused on exports.

“We the only 100% owner-operated farmer of salmon in Scotland, so we’ve got to be really focused on the marketplace that we’re targeting.

“Overall, we have just experienced less volatility of pricing [outside Europe] and a stronger level of loyalty, and I think that’s the driver.”

Referring to the award, he said: “The judges are recognising export growth. A country like Scotland is only going to grow the economy by focusing on exports, and farmed Scottish salmon is one of the few products with an enormous potential, which is definitely being recognised outside the UK.”

Second year in a row

Specialised aquaculture supplier Gael Force Group won the award for Outstanding Performing Business (25+ employees) for the second year running, and Gael Force owner and managing director Stewart Graham was named Business Leader of the Year. The group recorded a near £7m rise in turnover for 2017, and around a fourfold increase in pre-tax profits to £1.6m

Production director Stephen Offord, who collected the Outstanding Performing Business award, said: “To win this award for the second year running is a magnificent achievement and acknowledgment of the enormous progress our business has made in the past two years. Across our highly skilled teams we are aligned in our values and strategic objectives, and this will continue to drive us to deliver trusted product and services for our customers.”

Stephen Offord accepts the Outstanding Performing Business (25+ employees) on behalf of Gael Force.
Stephen Offord accepts the Outstanding Performing Business (25+ employees) on behalf of Gael Force.
Stewart Graham's son, Craig, and daughter, Rhiann, collect his Business Leader of the Year award.
Stewart Graham's son, Craig, and daughter, Rhiann, collect his Business Leader of the Year award.

Stewart Graham’s award was collected by his son and daughter, Craig and Rhiann, as he was in Canada promoting Gael Force Group’s plans for inward investment in the Newfoundland aquaculture industry at the Cold Harvest conference and trade show.

Graham’s leadership in driving the Scottish Aquaculture Vision for Growth to 2030 strategy was acknowledged as a defining factor in winning the accolade. He said: “I am truly honoured to be awarded Highland Business Leader of the Year and very grateful for the recognition it brings.  The backing I have received from our team at Gael Force to deliver on our business objectives, with support from the wider aquaculture industry has enabled me to drive Vision 2030 strategy and co-chair the Aquaculture Leadership Group alongside my day job as group managing director at Gael Force. Without that support it would have been challenging to commit wholeheartedly to those leadership roles.”

MacGregor Industrial Supplies, which has an aquaculture division supplying a variety of equipment used in the industry, won the Developing the Young Workforce award and was named both Inverness & Ross-shire Business of the Year and Highland Business of the Year.

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