Focus on Macduff

22nd August 2014

As Euan Beaton watched the UK’s first custom-built queen scallop trawler, Tjeerd Jacoba DS 7, set out on its maiden trip to fish in the Irish Sea last month, he knew this industry milestone held special significance for the business he chairs, Macduff, reports David Linkie.

The rebuilding of Tjeerd Jacoba (Fishing News 4th July) is a powerful symbol of investment, growth and change at the 130-year-old well known company that previously traded as Macduff Shellfish.

These developments are also reflected in the recently completed re-launch of the Macduff brand identity and introduction of the stylised M logo.

This three pillar icon represents the company’s core strengths; the people who manage and sustain business growth, the high-tech production processes employed and the quality products that deliver against customer expectation.

Although investment, growth and change at Macduff can be traced back through five family generations, the pace of development has never been greater than during the last five years.

A series of acquisitions, investment in production technology and business infrastructure, combined with greater integration across Scotland’s fishing communities, means that Macduff is a business leading from the front.

Euan Beaton explained that Macduff is Europe’s largest processor across four wild shellfish species scallop, langoustine, brown crab and whelk. “We have a full chain of custody from the sea to the customer and are active at every stage of the fishing network allowing us to control quality and insist on best practice.

“The launch of Tjeerd Jacoba is great news but it’s only one part of a much wider programme of investment in our business.

“We are also investing in our brand, which is recognised for providing exceptional service and product quality, and building partnerships with the fishing community by providing supportive investments to boat owners.

“The key to success for the Scottish fishing industry is to ensure we all work together to maximize the long term value of our great quality seafood produced from the great natural resource of our rich coastal waters,” he said.

Building on a rich history

Macduff’s links to the fishing industry goes back to the 19th century when the Scottish herring catch was at its peak, supporting hundreds of fishing boats and thousands of people.

From humble beginnings as a family business trading in white fish, the company has grown to be a major employer, contributing significantly to the Scottish economy.

The business grew from two employees in the early 1980s to its current workforce of over 400 having outgrown the original Macduff site to occupy its existing operation in Mintlaw.

Having joined the business as teenagers 28 years ago the current generation of the Beaton family, the fifth to be involved in the fishing and seafood industry, have been instrumental in achieving this growth and taking the company from strength-to-strength to its current position  as the premier processor of shellfish in the UK.

This growth has been delivered through building both a strong business infrastructure and a dedicated team of people.

Managing Director Roy Cunningham said that the company operates sophisticated processing facilities in Mintlaw and Stornoway which combine high levels of automation with the skilled hand-processing that is crucial to delivering great product quality to our customers.

“In 2010 we opened a new cold store which greatly increased our storage capacity, giving us the scale, flexibility and quality control to facilitate a global supply chain and service our customers’ needs.

“Macduff’s quality control starts with the expertise of the fishing community. The boats let us know in advance when and where they will be landing so we are ready to collect the catch and transport it quickly and carefully back for processing.

“Macduff operates its own vehicles, as well as working with professional third party hauliers. All the transport the company uses is fully refrigerated to ensure that the catch arrives in perfect condition. Quality control continues at the factory, where the catch is checked to ensure that it is in optimal condition and ready for the factory to handle.

“Our skilled staff, manage every stage of the process to ensure that the products provide real enjoyment to consumers across our global markets.”

Acquiring and investing in vessels

Macduff significantly stepped up its engagement with the fishing sector two years ago when it acquired the UK’s largest scallop fishing fleet, Scott Trawlers. The deal equipped the business with a fleet of vessels, two of which have ‘frozen at sea’ capabilities, unique to the scallop industry, which seals in inherent fresh- ness and flavour of the seafood.

This fleet was further developed with the purchase of four scallop boats, Atlantis Belle, Clasina, Cornelis Gert Jan and Isla S, from Kirkgunzeon-based Saltire Seafoods, together with the 15m Charity & Liberty.

Macduff also runs a marine engineering business, catering for the manufacturing needs of its growing team of scallop fishermen.

Explaining the rationale behind acquiring their own fleet, Macduff MD Roy Cunningham explained that they were keen to invest in a full chain of custody “from the sea to the kitchen”.

“Our management of the process from catching through to processing and delivery allows us to work closely with customers to facilitate their audit requirements at any stage in the process. Standards are high and we are constantly working to ensure high quality and full visibility throughout the supply chain.

“These  fleet acquisitions supplement Macduff’s tradition of being a trusted and valued customer of third party vessels, a tradition that the business states will always be an important part of the company’s strategy, now and in the future.

“We will continue to work collaboratively across the fishing sector and are proud of our active programme of providing investment to fishermen for vessels and equipment,” he told Fishing News.

The acquisition of Young’s Seafood in Stornoway last year gave Macduff the opportunity to not only own a processing facility on the West Coast of Scotland but to build relationships with fishermen on the Hebrides and the West Coast and extend its vessel financing scheme.

Already a partnership between Macduff and local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is setting out to secure the sustainability of fishing through funding improvements to existing vessels which have been active in local waters for many years and adding new vessels to the island’s fleet.

“The journey from the sea to the kitchen relies on the hard work and expertise of many different people whose livelihoods are critical to the communities we are part of,” Roy Cunningham added.

“Our investment is testament to what can be achieved by strong partners with a vested interest in modernising the fleet and creating an environment which enables fishermen into first time ownership. Macduff has the vision to develop the fleet in Stornoway and is creating additional career and business opportunities for fishermen.”

Serving quality to the customer base

“Ultimately, it is in the entire industry’s interests that the final product supplied across all the channels is first rate,” Roy Cunningham said.

“As a business, we have developed a strong customer base across wholesale, retail and the foodservice sector. We have had a longer history of   working within food- service and wholesale but we have worked hard recently to ensure that we also capitalise on the retail opportunity in both the frozen and chilled categories.

“Frozen still represents over half the Global sales channels but chilled is also growing quickly in mainland Europe.

“The demands of supplying international markets have never been higher.

“Our strategy has been squarely focused on delivering an integrated offer from ‘sea to kitchen’.

“We have an entrepreneurial approach and invest in the latest technology to ensure we meet trade demands.

“Global demand for seafood has outstripped wild supply and aquaculture now satisfies more of the world’s seafood consumption.

“We are aware that the take from wild fisheries has essentially been flat over the last decade at 80m tonnes.

“This reality places a distinct advantage to producers who can access resource in an integrated and efficient manner.

“However, our success will always rest on the quality of the products.

“We have a commitment to pure, wild shellfish.

“We only ever sell fresh or frozen, raw or steam-cooked wild shellfish with no sauces or coatings to disguise the purity of the product,” Roy commented.

Product range

Macduff focuses attention on four key species.

King and queen scallops are produced in a number of formats including fresh scallop meat; frozen scallop meat and frozen scallop in the whole or half shell.

King and queen scallops are fished all around the coast of the UK and sold across the globe as appreciation of this delicacy among professional chefs and home cooks alike continues to increase.

Langoustine is experiencing growing international demand.

The langoustine catch is one of the most important for the Scottish fishing industry and Macduff sells fresh and frozen whole langoustine and frozen shell-on and shell-off tails, each in a variety of pack sizes.

“Langoustine is prized everywhere and is a particular favourite in Mediterranean countries.” Roy added.

Two species of crab are processed – the brown and the velvet, which are both abundant in UK waters.

Macduff processes and sells brown crab in a range of formats and sizes, including whole crabs and claws.

The company’s brown crabs are caught from the coastal waters all around Scotland during August to December, when they have the optimum meat quantity.  As extremely sensitive creatures, their handling, storage and cooking needs precision to ensure a premium product and an experienced crab handling team, operating both on the vessels and in the factory, are employed at Macduff to manage this careful process.

Finally, Macduff offers the whelk. Whelks usually arrive at Mintlaw in large bags, inspected for quality and then cooked in a pressurised steam cooker before the shells are removed.

The blanched whelk meat is then inspected by hand to ensure only the best quality product is sold before being bagged and frozen for delivery.

Investing In People

Roy Cunningham strongly believes that skilled and motivated people are the lifeblood of the business.

“We are focused on the continual improvement of all the Macduff team across a range of specialist  roles whether it’s a colleague working on the production line in Mintlaw or an engineer working for fleet operations in Dumfries.

“Our team comprises people working on and in vessels, processing plants, technical and administrative services, engineering and fabrication workshops, sales and marketing, and finance and administration.

“We are a modern and multi-disciplined business with connected professional people who perform their roles with an attitude of enthusiasm, pride and perfectionism,” he said.

Also mindful that the business ultimately depends on healthy stocks, Roy Cunningham further commented that the company’s breadth of offering brings with it a responsibility.

“It’s one we take seriously in terms of looking to ensure productive and sustainable fishing today and abundant harvests for the future,” he told Fishing News.

Macduff Chairman Euan Beaton believes that this is a really exciting time in Macduff’s continued expansion.

“Over the last ten years we’ve quadrupled the business. And, over the next five years we aim to double it again through investment opportunities and through organic growth.

“A goal that will only be possible by working hand- in-hand with the fishing community,” he concluded.