Q&A: Patrick Chauchard, Fumage d’Arzon

Quality is the leitmotif for French artisan salmon smoker Patrick Chauchard, who only sources Scottish Label Rouge salmon for smoking. For more than 20 years, this qualitative approach has delivered solid year-on-year growth for his successful Brittany-based business, Fumage d’Arzon, unfazed by the recent economic downturn. SeafoodSource Contributing Editor Lindsey Partos traveled to Brittany to watch the artisan smoker in action.

Partos: Describe your range of products?
We only work with fresh fish, so for wild capture we work in season. We hand gut, fillet and marinate mackerel, sardines and tuna, and we only use fresh ingredients for the marinades, such as spring onions, tomatoes and herbs. In addition to buying at the fish market and from fishermen, I’ll also go out fishing and will preserve my catch. We also preserve farmed sturgeon, cuttlefish and conger eel.

Salmon represents about two-thirds of our business. In addition to the core smoked-salmon product, we prepare delicatessen foods made from smoked salmon such as rillettes, a sort of fish pate made with our salmon, Brittany butter, seaweed and fresh dill.

Why do use Scottish Label Rouge salmon?
As far as I’m concerned, Label Rouge is the farmed salmon that most resembles wild salmon. Years ago when stocks were up I would buy wild Icelandic salmon for smoking. Today I buy Label Rouge salmon, principally from Loch Duart [one of four Label Rouge salmon producers in Scotland] but also from the others, because I think it’s the best. Quality is the No. 1 priority for us.

How much fish do you sell annually?
Twenty years ago we started smoking 8 tons of salmon. Today we transform 55 tons of Label Rouge salmon a year. We sell about 70 tons of fish products, including preserved mackerel and tuna, a year. Salmon represents about two-thirds (50 tons) of our sales. Added-value is in the smoked salmon.

What growth have you experienced since your business kicked off?
In the 22 years since the business started we have seen progressive annual growth. We’ve witnessed year-on-year growth of 5 to 6 percent. So far we have not experienced a difference in sales as a result of the recent economic downturn.

Through which channels do you sell your fish products?
Ninety percent of our sales are direct to the shopper, through our two shops located near the production facilities and through mail order. We have over 13,500 names on our mailing list. The margin is correct, because I’m selling direct. And I really like working directly with the client. We do not sell through the main retail streams. I have difficulty supplying my own markets, let alone more.

You currently work in two facilities?
They are both small scale. We’re an artisan operation and I want to keep it that way. I feel this is important for the quality of our products. At our facility in Vannes we receive, gut, fillet, salt, smoke and hand slice all of the Label Rouge salmon. Again mindful of quality, we only use top quality salt from Guerande in Brittany. It’s more expensive, but does a great job.

Our second facility, in Arzon is used for preserving and processing other fish, as well as for making our smoked salmon deli range. But I’m in the process of building a third new production facility — 780 square meters in size — where I will unite the two facilities.

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