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Loch Duart, which exports two-thirds of its fish, was presented as a case study by the FDF. Photo: Loch Duart.
Loch Duart, which exports two-thirds of its fish, was presented as a case study by the FDF. Photo: Loch Duart.

Scottish salmon has regained its position as the UK’s most valuable food export following a successful first quarter of 2019.

The value of salmon exports increased by 40.9% in Q1, compared to the same period last year, according to UK government figures published in a report this week by the Food and Drink Federation.

Salmon exports were worth £206.5m from January to March, a £59.9m increase on Q1 2018. The increase is partly due to a 19.9% increase in the volume of salmon exported.

Julie Hesketh-Laird: Positive start to 2019.
Julie Hesketh-Laird: Positive start to 2019.

‘Appetite for salmon extending’

Salmon was top food export in 2017 – a record year for Scottish salmon production - but lost its position to chocolate last year, when lower production volumes led to lower export earnings.

This year’s Q1 figures have lifted the product back into the No.2 spot in the FDF’s food and drink league table, behind another iconic Scottish product, whisky.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), said: “These latest export figures confirm Scottish salmon’s position as the UK’s largest food export. With France, USA and China firmly established as strategically important markets, the international appetite for salmon sees exports extending to areas as far flung as Asia, the Middle East and throughout the EU.  

“All markets look for quality, taste and provenance and clearly Scottish salmon delivers on those attributes. It’s a very positive start to 2019 and the salmon farmers are working hard to meet the growing demands for the rest of the year.”

Continued innovation and investment

Hesketh-Laird added: “The growth currently being enjoyed by the Scottish salmon sector is the result of continued innovation and investment, by farmers and partners in the supply chain, in people, skills, research and new facilities.

“Taking the number one position in such a dynamic manufacturing industry is testament to the dedication of the thousands of people directly employed by Scottish salmon farming in some of the UK’s most remote, rural communities and the thousands more employed in supporting the sector.”

Looking ahead, she said: "Early indications are that 2019 is proving to be a good year in terms of the number and weight of fish harvested, leading to increased production and higher prices at market.

“However, farmers are keeping a very close eye on fish health and welfare, aware that sudden shifts in water temperature and other factors could alter that situation." 

Sweet success: Scottish salmon has nudged chocolate fro the top spot in the table of the UK's most valuable food exports. Click on image to enlarge. Illustration: FDF.
Sweet success: Scottish salmon has nudged chocolate fro the top spot in the table of the UK's most valuable food exports. Click on image to enlarge. Illustration: FDF.

Food and drink exports up 10.7%

Overall, UK exports of food and drink in Q1 increased by 10.7% year-on-year to £5.8 billion, almost twice the growth rate of exports in Q1 2018 (+6.3%) and the biggest first quarter sales value on record.

Growth of more than 20% was recorded in six of the UK’s top 20 export markets: the Netherlands, China, Sweden, Japan, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia.

However, the FDF has warned that growth may slow over the rest of 2019 with foreign buyers signalling they are no longer willing to buy from UK exporters due to ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

The value of salmon exported from Scotland in 2018 was just under £505 million, around 16% less than the record-breaking year before, new figures from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs show.

The fall in earnings is a consequence of a decrease in export volumes from 92,350 tonnes to 74,816 tonnes, caused because smaller harvests meant there were fewer fish to sell than in 2017, when salmon farmers produced a record-high 189,707 tonnes. 

The FDF’s report includes an export case study of Loch Duart Salmon, which exports about 70% of its salmon to over 20 countries around the world including France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Cyprus, Poland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Italy, Switzerland, USA, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Lebanon, UAE, Bahrain, Eire, Portugal and Spain.

Andy Bing: Success in Switzerland.
Andy Bing: Success in Switzerland.

Swiss pleased

In the study, Loch Duart sales director Andy Bing picks out Switzerland and Japan as markets with different demands.

“Loch Duart’s market penetration (kilos per annum per capita of population) within any particular export country is second highest in Switzerland, after France in first place,” writes Bing.

“The Swiss business customer (typically a wholesaler to HORECA) relates to the traditional values and high quality of Loch Duart salmon. The Swiss appreciate the high farming costs, mainly top grade high marine content feed, which engenders the outstandingly good taste and texture.

“Contrary to fish industry custom we always sell to Switzerland on a fixed price which may only change once per year. This has definite appeal to the Swiss business culture and the cultural link is enhanced with formality in customer service and respect for long standing business relations.”

Japan is supplied by Loch Duart most weeks of the year, says Bing.

“Our culinary experience is that the Japanese have the most searching standards for quality and are very eager students of any method of calibrating quality. Conversely, the Japanese place pricing issues higher than other countries despite their intimate knowledge and interest in quality. This has held back our market development.

“However, Loch Duart is not daunted and we feel that the correct branding message, correctly communicated will open up this massive fish eating market to Loch Duart in future years.”