LOCH Fyne Oysters, the iconic Scottish seafood company, is to expand its operations around London after yesterday buying Surrey-based Simson's Fisheries.
The fishery, which processes and distributes fish to businesses in the south of England, will allow Loch Fyne Oysters, which is based in Cairndow, in Argyll, to improve its route to market. The value of the deal was not disclosed.
The Loch Fyne business was founded by Johnny Noble and Andy Lane in 1978 and became an employee-owned company in 2003, following the sudden death of Noble.
Its Loch Fyne Restaurants business was sold to Greene King, the pub chain that owns Belhaven Brewery, in 2007 for 68 million, but the eateries remain a major partner for the oyster company.
Yesterday it was confirmed that Tim Lucas and Richard Organ will continue to run Simson's Fisheries, reporting to Bruce Davidson, managing director of Loch Fyne Oysters.
Davidson told The Scotsman: "Buying Simson's will enable us to give Loch Fyne Restaurants a much better service. Beautiful though it is here in Argyll, it's not the best place to service a customer with 45 restaurants predominantly in the south of England. It will enable us to ship in bulk from here and distribute from Simson's, which is near the M25.
"One of the attractions of us to the sellers was that we didn't buy them for synergies; we bought them as a complimentary business to ourselves and to help us get a far more efficient and effective route to market. What they're adding, we don't have. We'll have to pay for it by growing our sales."
Bank of Scotland Corporate supplied a financial package to fund the Simson's takeover. Loch Fyne Oysters, which has 135 staff, said the acquisition would also help to reduce the environmental impact of the company's activities.
The company said its simplified supply chain would help it to lower its carbon emissions and would give it the opportunity to reduce packaging by developing a reusable delivery system. Davidson added: "Simson's has a good reputation and a good brand in the south of England. We will run the two brands in parallel initially but, in time, I would anticipate Simson's more visibly becoming a Loch Fyne business.
"We have no plans at present for other acquisitions. This is a significant move for us so, over the next 12 months, we'll be working hard to make sure it works. We hope our suppliers in Argyll will benefit as well."
Davidson said the staff at Simson's would eventually become employee-shareholders in the Loch Fyne business.
On its site at Cairndow, Loch Fyne now runs its original oyster bar, a farm shop selling local seafood and meats, and an online shop.
Simson's Fisheries, which was founded in 1974, has 45 members of staff.
JOHNNY Noble and Andy Lane began selling oysters from a lay-by beside Loch Fyne on the A82 three decades ago.
Lane, a marine biologist and fish farmer, and Noble, whose family estate is at Ardkinglass, on the shores of the loch, set-up their business as a way of creating jobs in their remote Argyll home.
They moved from the lay-by to a farm at Cairndow, at the head of the loch, and opened their own smokehouse in 1982.
In 1988, they opened the world-famous Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, which still operates on the site today.
The pair opened their second oyster bar, in Nottingham, in 1990 and then a third Elton, near Peterborough, in 1992. In 1998, restaurant entrepreneurs Ian Glyn and Mark Derry helped Noble and Lane to set-up Loch Fyne Restaurants as a separate business.
Noble died suddenly in 2002 and, the following year, the Loch Fyne company was bought by its employees for just under 4 million.
Last year, the chain of Loch Fyne Restaurants was sold to Greene King, the pub group that owns Belhaven Brewery, for 68m. Lane retired from the business in 2007 to run a farm in Devon.
The company is marking its 30th anniversary this year by publishing a book, Local Heroes.