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Friday, 03 July 2015

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A WEST Cumbrian seafood business has expanded this month launching a new £1million smokery. The West Lakes Smokery, near Whitehaven, opened on January 14 and has already gained £10 million in new business.THE success of West Lakes Smokery has also been felt in the HR division of the company.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE: Clare Percival and Debbie Eilbeck from West Lakes Smokery

The new smokery, which employs 140 people, has been a two year project for Cumbrian Seafoods.

Cumbrian Seafoods was founded at Maryport in 1997 and grew well from its West Cumbrian roots, expanding into a £160 million business and making it the UK’s leading independent seafood company.

With 80 employees from the former Maryport site, the project is part of ongoing investment and growth at the processing plant in Moresby.

The launch event at West Lakes Smokery celebrates the quiet success of this Cumbrian business which has seen changing markets, consolidation, growth and over £3 million investment.

In 2002, the business acquired Cumberland Coldstorage and spent over £2 million converting the facility into a fish smoking plant. Sadly, with increasingly tight quotas, the company withdrew from the smoked mackerel market and the plant saw a reduction in production.

Production space has increased from 20,000 square feet in 2008 to 50,000 square feet in November 2010, with two new smoking kilns introduced as part of the recent investment.

It has increased intake and defrosting space and doubled smoking capacity from six tonnes to 24 tonnes. Only two weeks ago the smokery secured a contract with its fifth major food retailer delivering across the UK.

In 2008 the firm had one customer and was smoking a tonne of fish per day. Today it is now averaging weekly sales in excess of £800,000 and smoking 12 tonnes of fish every day.

David Gilthorpe, managing director at Cumbrian Seafoods, said: “We have long recognised it is essential to invest in our processing and packing operation and to maintain a well trained, loyal workforce.

“Fish is a very delicate product and we have a strong reputation for quality within the industry. We source the freshest product globally and are proud to maintain a growing local workforce and roots in the local economy.

“When we were first looking for somewhere to locate the business, we received phenomenal support from West Cumbria Development Agency.

“They helped us find a site and since then, have always been our first port of call for advice on local issues and helping to raise finance.

“Two years ago there were 18 people at this site and a lot of uncertainty but this investment is our vote of confidence in the workforce.

“The launch of the new smokery is an important recognition for our staff and marks a huge turning point for us.”

When headquarters moved from Maryport to Seaham, County Durham in 2008, the company remained firmly committed to growth in West Cumbria. They closed the Maryport site to develop their Whitehaven processing plant as a centre for excellence for supply to their customers’ fish counters.

Some of the Maryport staff moved to Seaham, but Carl Myers, factory manager and master smoker brought across 80 of his staff to work at Whitehaven and to this day they are still provided with a bus to get to work.

Carl Myers, factory manager who uses secret blends of wood smoke including beech, oak, juniper and apple wood, said he hopes to double production in smoked fish by the end of this year.

“This expansion has resulted in more space, more business, and a very happy workforce,” he said. “We are currently smoking around 12 tonnes of fish per day – I foresee us smoking 24 tonnes and with our good position right in the middle of the country, we can distribute all over the UK.

“Our reputation is based on our quality and our workforce is very dedicated and proud in their work so our destiny is now in our own hands.”

Dog Holden, chief executive of WCDA, said: “Cumbrian Seafoods’ West Lakes Smokery business is a fantastic West Cumbrian success story. They have developed a world class smoking facility and have not been shy to invest in the business during the current economic times.

“In 2008 they employed 18 people, they now employ 140. They have increased smoking capacity and are continuing to attract large contracts.

“Ten million pounds in new business - this year - derived outside the nuclear industry is a phenomenal achievement and we are proud to have been able to play a small part in their development.”

Taking the ancient skills of smoking, Carl and his team have rejuvenated the process into one of Cumbria’s most successful businesses.

The smokery is the biggest UK supplier of the Vietnamese river cobbler fish. The majority of its stock comes from Iceland daily which is ethically sourced using line fishing and only catching maturer fish.

The plant’s busiest time is during the Easter period – last Easter they sold over £2.1 million worth of counter fish in one week. Previous Easter periods has seen it smoke 120 tonnes of cod in one week for one of its main retailers that was running a smoked fish promotion for the holidays.

Three months ago the firm took on four graduates on its two-year management programme to help meet the demands the newly developed plant was undergoing.

Clare Percival, of the firm’s HR team, is heading the project along with the company’s ongoing workforce development programme.

She said: “Every single employee here has gone through a training programme and the process has developed along with the site. I am CIPD qualified and, through the company, have been trained as a trainer myself. We run a range of courses and qualifications for our employees including ISOH Management Safety, HACCP awareness, Food safety – level 2 and 3 and Health and Safety e-learning.

“As for our graduate management programme – we have been very impressed with our new recruits, they are of an extremely high calibre and, already, they have got to grips with some of the management issues facing our employees.”

Debbie Eilbeck, 21, from Whitehaven was the first graduate recruited onto the company’s management scheme.

Debbie said: “The training has gone really well and because of the size of the business I have been able to get to grips with things that I wouldn’t have anywhere else.

“I didn’t expect to get as involved in the managing of the plant as I have been.

“I felt like I’ve been able to get really stuck in.”


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