New sales to mainland Europe, China and the Caribbean have raised the spirits of bosses at a multiple award-winning supplier of fish to the Queen.
Last year, John Ross Jr (Aberdeen) chief executive Christopher Leigh was upset about recruitment challenges – lambasting the UK Government over its new immigration policy.
And in January this year sales director Victoria Leigh-Pearson – whose family has run the Granite City smokehouse since 1987 – railed out over Brexit. She accused Westminster of “gross incompetence” in its handling of the transition towards the UK quitting the European Union.
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the fruits of our labour in relation to our business development work.”
Christopher Leigh, chief executive, John Ross Jr (Aberdeen)
John Ross Jr recently filed accounts at Companies House for the year to June 20 2020, showing sales slid by more than 11% to £13.5 million after Covid-19 impacted its revenue stream. But pre-tax profits rose slightly, to £1.29m
The company said trading was also affected in the second half by Brexit, which “initially had a major impact from a logistics viewpoint”.
It added: “Preparations were extensive in the preceding year to ensure we were adequately prepared for this major change in our export markets.”
The firm, which processes salmon into raw fillets, as well as smoked and ready-to-eat products, has now said it expects to get back to pre-Covid levels of trading soon.
Chief executive Christopher Leigh said: “Faced with multiple challenges, including Brexit and a global pandemic, our business has done well to weather the many storms, thanks to the continued efforts of our outstanding team and the loyalty of our diverse customer base.
“Current trading is what we would expect and the forecast looks strong. We expect to return to pre-Covid levels within the next six months.”
He added: “As the hospitality industry effectively shut down, we saw a rise in demand for restaurant-quality produce with credibility and provenance, which is where our traditional smoked salmon products really delivered.
“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the fruits of our labour in relation to our business development work, having secured a fantastic new retail presence in Shanghai.
“We have also confirmed listings for the autumn with a major retailer in Europe, as well as an exciting new customer in the Caribbean, which makes us really optimistic for the year ahead.”
Mr Leigh’s father, Andrew Leigh, founded John Ross Jr in 1987, however, the smokehouse and its historic brick kilns on Sinclair Road, in Torry, Aberdeen, date back to 1857.
Although control of the two-time Queen’s Award-winning business passed to Estonian company PRFoods in 2017, the previous family owners – led by the current CEO – are still at the heart of it.
John Ross Jr had 114 employees, on average, during 2019-20, down from 121 the year before.
Last year, Mr Leigh junior – a former president of the Aberdeen Association of Royal Warrant Holders – called the government’s plan to deny visas to low-skilled workers an “assault” on UK firms and said it showed “just how out of touch with business politicians really are”.
Red tape blues
But the Home Office insisted its new points-based immigration system would be “less restrictive” and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said seafood firms would continue to be able to recruit “skilled” processors.
Ms Leigh Pearson’s criticism of the government earlier this year came after John Ross Jr got caught up in Brexit-related seafood export chaos.
Lorries carrying perishable Scottish fish and other seafood were held up for days at an export distribution hub in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, due to red tape, while IT problems on both sides of the Channel also delayed shipments of valuable produce to key markets in Europe.
The bureaucratic shambles led to a protest in London, with seafood trucks making their way to the heart of the capital to highlight the plight of the Scottish seafood industry.
In a letter to the then business secretary, Alok Sharma, Ms Leigh-Pearson said: “Recent months have been the hardest since we first opened our doors – not because of the inevitable bureaucracy associated with Brexit, which we expected and accepted, but because we have had to endure the government issuing a barrage of useless information, none of which has added any clarity or value to businesses such as ours.”
“The level of support the government has provided to businesses – certainly ours, at least – amounts to gross incompetence.”