Shetland’s largest salmon producer opened a £4.2 million state-of-the-art processing plant this week which will provide around 70 new jobs when it is fully operational.
Norwegian-owned Grieg Seafood Hjaltland (GSH) also launched a new range of smoked salmon products, branded as WildWaters, which are due to go on sale exclusively at selected Asda stores across the UK from early next week.
The new plant, which includes the latest hi-tech smokehouses, an automatic salting line, four slicing lines and a packing line, will allow GSH to harvest and process fish within up to 36 hours, giving the firm what it says is a competitive advantage over its rivals. It can produce 12 tonnes of smoked and marinated salmon per day.
Grieg Seafood bought the Hjaltland Group in 2007. Between them the firms have invested £21 million in acquiring sites and processing capacity in the isles over the last five years and GSH now employs between 120 and 160 people depending on the time of year.
The company is rare in having bought or developed fish farms (it now has 35 sites in different locations around Shetland), processing plant and sales and marketing, giving it a vertically integrated structure that allows it to deliver from “egg to plate”.
Managing director Michael Stark said: “In this business, providing product at the peak of freshness is key. The company has long been known as the only one in Europe that can pack salmond and produce fillets in different trims in less than one hour.
“Now, with the value-added process being able to take place on site, Grieg Seafood Hjaltland can harvest, fillet, process, smoke and despatch the fish all within 24-36 hours, saving two to five days on its competitors, thus ensuring a fresher product and a longer shelf life for the retailer and consumer.”
Mr Stark admitted it might be difficult to recruit all 70 new workers from what is a tight jobs market, but said the firm always looked to the local labour pool in the first instance, only looking outwith Shetland when absolutely necessary. “We offer good wages and conditions,” he added.
Opening the plant on Wednesday in front of more than 100 guests from Shetland, Norway and the rest of the UK, isles MSP Tavish Scott said: “This investment is a clear sign of confidence in the future of the aquaculture industry in Shetland – an industry which has become one of the mainstays of our islands’ economy.
“Adding value – producing a product for the market – is what Shetland needs to do across the food industry. This opening is part of that essential future. I wish the company, and its employees, every success for the future of their Shetland operations.”
The GSH investment has been helped by grants of £420,000 from the EU for the new processing line, £230,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and £230,000 from Shetland Islands Council.
The council’s economic development unit has also put up a loan of £724,000 towards the project. Lerwick Port Authority has also invested £1.3 million in the building, which is located on authority land, and is leasing it back to GSH.
Mr Stark said the public funding was justified given the number of jobs created, the wages put back into the Shetland economy and the future economic benefit to the isles.
GSH made a slight loss of £1.77 million in 2008 which was due, Mr Stark said, to the impact of the infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) outbreak off Scalloway, but the previous year it reported a profit of £5.14 million.
Mr Stark, who is also a trained chef, took a close personal interest in the development of the WildWaters brand. It includes a set of seasoned smoked salmon with shandana, caipirinha, orange pepper or limoncello.
“The carefully selected seasonings balance perfectly with the smoked or marinated salmon creating a culinary delicacy with a rare quality, appearance, aroma and taste,” he said.