A Shetland mussel seller is creating new jobs as it sets its sights on fresh markets after having to temporarily close when its main restaurant and retail customers were hit by the Covid crisis.
Seaspray (Shetland) has opened a facility in Lerwick that enables it to pack mussels in a variety of weights suited to customer requirements, rather than the bulk quantities needed by the wholesale trade.
The move will create four jobs and protect around a dozen more among the firm’s two local suppliers.
Seaspray was established in 2007 and acquired by current owners, Gordon and Julie Johnson, five years ago.
The mussels are sourced from family-owned firms C&A Thomason, on the island of Yell, and Vementry Aquaculture, based at Aith Bixter on Shetland’s mainland.
Before the pandemic struck, around 600 tonnes were packaged and sold each year under the ShetlandSelect brand, with restaurants, hospitality venues and small retail outlets across the UK the main customers.
A smaller proportion of sales was also exported to Dubai and the Middle East.
As the company adapted its business strategy, the development of its new packing station, at Lerwick’s Laurenson Quay, was backed with £50,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
Mr Johnson said: “We are very pleased with the facility and the new packing line, which without the support of HIE could not have gone ahead.
Not only will this create new jobs, but also provides a more secure position for the dozen or so employees of our suppliers.
“We look forward to a sustainable growth over coming years with the recognition of quality through a strong Shetland brand.
“I consider this phase one of our future development plan.”
Andrew Gear, HIE’s head of business growth in Shetland, added: “Covid 19 has had a major impact on Seaspray’s business and the contracted suppliers. It led to a complete closure of their market from April to August.
The hospitality market has gradually re-opened, but on a significantly smaller scale and is predicated to recover slowly.”
He continued: “The company’s latest plans to change the way it packages and sells the local produce, will help them recover from the impacts of Covid 19 and help grow the company.
“We are very pleased that the move will create new jobs and make a positive contribution to people living on Shetland and one of our key sectors.”
Mussels from C&A Thomason will continue to be packaged for wholesale orders on Yell, the UK’s most northerly inhabited island, while supplies from Vementry Aquaculture will be processed at the new facility.