Braving the smoked salmon market

Published on
August 29, 2011

The UK smoked salmon market was worth GBP 114.2 million through July 2011, up 3.2 percent from the previous year, according to Kantar Worldpanel. However, volume dropped 6.6 percent to 6,300 metric tons, with the increase in price sustaining the growth in value. In total, smoked salmon accounts for 5 percent of total UK seafood purchases.

The high price of smoked product was led by a rise in the price of fresh Scottish salmon this year, but it’s now on the decline. This easing should benefit the processing and smoking industries and, ultimately, the consumer, if the savings are passed on.

Scotland’s newest smoked salmon business is less than a year old, and despite entering a highly competitive market during a recession its owners are pleased with its progress and confident of its success. 

“Many people told us we were mad to start such a venture in an uncertain climate, but we had faith in our abilities and that faith is paying off,” said partners Karen Baxter and Allan McDougall of Argyll Smokery. “We have already built up a good name in local restaurants and delicatessens and our products are in great demand at farmers markets. We have just started supplying in a small way to a top UK retailer and a cruise ship, and are fielding a number of export enquiries.”

Not bad for a start-up owned and operated by two people. 

Karen and Allan have worked in the seafood industry for years, Allan as a production manager and Karen in sales, marketing and logistics. “We wanted a challenge that wasn’t being provided by working for other people, so we decided to put our expertise to good use and set up our own smokery,” she said.

Their compact premises on a trading estate near Dunoon, in Argyll, has two kilns, each with a capacity of 75 kilograms of fish. “We smoke over oak chips from whisky barrels for a maximum of eight hours but use a slow dry-curing process beforehand, which helps to give our products a moist texture and deep flavor,” explained Allan. “It also means that in theory we could turn both kilns around three times in 24 hours, giving a daily capacity of 450 kilograms.”

He currently smokes hot and cold salmon, using fillets from well-known independent producers Loch Duart and Wester Ross, plus hot and cold trout using sea grown rainbow trout from Kames. Other products include smoked mackerel, herring fillets (kippers) and mussels and prawns, and trials are underway with freshwater crayfish tails, oysters, scallops and local Ghigha halibut. Sides of salmon and trout are carefully hand sliced before packing, and all trimmings are turned into tasty pâtés.   

As larger companies start thinking about gearing up for the Christmas rush in the U.S. market, when the bulk of smoked salmon sales take place, Allan said he does not intend to freeze stock down. “We are building our reputation on a made-to-order product and I do not want to compromise this, even during the busy times,” he said. “We are a small company selling into niche markets and need to have a point of difference.”

Having felt their way into the market, the pair are now keen to expand and are seeking new supply opportunities in the UK and overseas.   

This summer they won “Great Taste” gold awards for their kiln roasted salmon, kipper pâté and kiln roasted salmon pâté. “We put three products in for these national awards and came up trumps with all of them, which is a huge achievement, and tells us that we have developed something solid to build on,” said Karen.   

Here’s to continued success for Argyll Smokery.

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