Loch Fyne Oysters clinches sale to seafood investment group

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LOCH Fyne Oysters, the employee-owned Argyll fish producer, was sold yesterday to Scottish Seafood Investments (SSI) in an “eight-figure deal”.

Staff at the firm voted unanimously in favour of the deal, under which SSI will buy all of their shares and pump cash into the business to take it into more international markets.

SSI wants to boost exports from about 15 per cent of sales to 50 per cent over the next five years and is targeting markets in the United States and Asia, including Japan and South Korea.

Loch Fyne Oysters already sells its produce – which includes mussels, oysters and smoked salmon – to overseas markets including Europe, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The firm – which is based at Cairndow, on the shore of Loch Fyne – passed into staff ownership in 2003 following the death of Johnny Noble, who had launched the business in 1978. The Loch Fyne Restaurants chain was sold for £68 million in 2007 to brewing giant Greene King, which also owns Dunbar’s Belhaven brewery.

Bruce Davidson, managing director at Loch Fyne Oysters, said all 105 employees, including the management team, will remain with the business following the takeover and that staff numbers could grow by 20 per cent over the next five years. “The employee-ownership model was good because it helped us to create a secure small business,” said Davidson.

“But it meant we couldn’t attract investment to take us to the next stage of growth. I think this will be a happy marriage with SSI because they want to keep Loch Fyne as a quality brand.”

SSI plans to expand the mussel and oysters farms at Cairndow, as well as beefing up the smokehouse and processing facilities.

The investment company was launched last year as a joint venture between private equity firm Northern Link and the Oslo-listed Scottish Salmon Company (SSC), in which Northern Link holds a major stake. Edinburgh-based SSC produces about 20 per cent of Scotland’s salmon.

Last year SSI used £600,000 from its £15m warchest to buy a 50 per cent stake in Associated Seafoods, a Glasgow-based business set up by former SSC chief executive Bill Hazeldean.