A small Scottish seafood export company is on target to achieve sales of well over GBP 2 million (USD 3.2 million, EUR 2.5 million) by the end of the year, nearly tripling its turnover since 2012.
It is just five years since Anne Moseley set up her seafood consultancy, Intersea Food Scotland, to help fishermen and processors export to Europe. During that time the company has grown to five people, three of whom are based in France, and business is booming.
Anne realized early on that a more hands-on approach was needed to help her clients, and came up with the idea of running an off-site sales export department for local companies that could not afford to operate their own.
This idea appealed to several small-scale seafood processors and fishing boats and an independent salmon producer who appreciated having export expertise on tap. Following a re-branding exercise, FAO27 was born.
Inspiration for the name came from the official grid reference for the North Sea fishing sector in which the seafood is caught, and helps remind customers of its provenance.
Operating from a headquarters in the Highlands of Scotland, the company sells whitefish, shellfish and farmed salmon to retailers, wholesalers, large fishmongers and independent stores across Europe. It is particularly strong in France and Belgium, and is growing markets in Portugal, Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Market insight has proved useful in identifying new products, such as the cod and coley loins popular in the French and Belgian markets. These are now prepared by FAO27’s partner fish processor, and demand is growing fast.
“Having identified a niche for this product, we helped put training in place to ensure it was prepared correctly and even found markets for the offcuts. This is the level of service we like to provide for our partners with,” said Anne.
The most popular products are Scottish langoustine, which are sold live or fresh chilled. Live product is graded and packed in individual tubes onboard the vessels, to ensure they arrive to the customer in perfect condition.
“The goals and aspirations of the fishermen and processors who are our local partners are at the heart of everything we do,” said Anne. “It can be a real challenge for a small family fishing boat or a local processor to reach the most profitable markets and get the best possible prices for their produce. We work closely with our partners to obtain that market insight and to provide the best quality fish and shellfish, when and where it’s required, at the best price.”
FAO27 has worked hard to mitigate the impact of the global economic downturn on the partners it works with. Over the last two years it has developed a strategy to lessen its reliance on wholesale markets by developing trade with smaller stores and fishmongers, which provide better margins and returns.
The company has also sought to make trading easier in Europe by setting up a Euro account and buying forward currencies to limit their exposure to fluctuations in the exchange rate. Logistical issues have been overcome by working with service company Latitude 66 in Boulogne sur Mer in France, which prepares all the orders and provides a base in Europe where products can be checked before they go to market.
In the past 12 months, this strategy has seen business grow by more than 1,000 percent to French fishmongers, by 1,500 percent to French retailers and by 30 percent to the wholesalers. The Belgian market has grown by over 300 percent.
“We organize market trips for our partners to enable them to meet the customers and to gain an understanding of the quality of produce required. This is particularly important for the live shellfish and langoustine markets, and is appreciated by both sides,” Anne said.
Salmon currently makes up around 7 percent of sales and Gilpin Bradley, CEO of Wester Ross Salmon, is pleased with the way that sales for his products have increased since he partnered with FAO27. “This organization takes a real interest in promoting the reasons why our salmon are unique, and we’re pleased with FAO27’s development of our sales in France. We wish them continued success in developing this market.”
This year the company’s achievements have been recognized with several major awards, including Export Business of the Year and the prize for Success Through Partnership at the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards, Top Export company at the Food and Drink Federation Awards 2014 and the Food and Drink Business Growth Award at the Highlands & Islands Food and Drink Awards.
“Winning the awards is an endorsement of the hard work put in by the FAO27 team, and our fishermen and processors who produce consistently outstanding products that are in high demand across Europe,” said Anne.
“We are now excited about our plans for the future, which include developing eco-friendly packaging to reduce costs to the supply chain, and developing the Irish market, which our research shows has exciting opportunities for supply. FAO27 will also be flying the flag for Scottish seafood at SIRHA, the major food service exhibition in Lyon, France, in January, and we look forward to meeting existing and new customers there,” she added.