A major £400,000 expansion is underway at the Orkney Fishermen’s Society (OFS) crab processing plant – already the UK’s largest – as the business moves to meet a growing demand for its products from leading supermarket chains.

Six new jobs will be created by the redevelopment, with work at the Stromness based factory due for completion early next summer. The plant, which currently employs around 80 people, has been operating seven days a week since June of this year.

Larger blast freezing and chill facilities are being created as part of the expansion programme, along with extra processing space for new, added value product lines. The OFS plant is also set to become the first in the UK to operate humane stunning equipment and x-ray shell fragment detection on a crab meat production line.

Funding for the project is coming from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Marine Scotland and from shareholders of OFS, which operates as a cooperative.

“This expansion is absolutely vital if we are to meet the growing worldwide demand for our existing products and progress the development of several important new lines,” said OFS managing director, Stewart Crichton. “We’ve worked very hard to become market leaders in the UK crab meat sector and have gained approval for direct supply to major supermarket chains through our rigorous adherence to the high quality, hygiene, and traceability standards demanded by key retailers.”

Mr Crichton said turnover was expected to rise to around £9 million a year when the expanded plant was fully operational, with 40-50 tons of crab being processed every week.

“Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Aldi, Waitrose and Sainsbury have all placed significant orders with OFS for new product lines, reflecting the rising popularity of crab meat as a healthy, low fat food that’s high in nutrients,” said Mr Crichton. “We also continue to supply a growing wholesale market and ship to customers throughout Europe and the Far East. The expansion programme ensures we will be well placed to meet all these orders, seek new markets and continue to build Orkney’s reputation as a source of high quality, sustainable foods.”

Harvey Stevenson, development manager at HIE Orkney, said: “The Orkney Fishermen’s Society is a great example of how a traditional business can move with the times and embrace new methods and technologies, while maintaining its core values of quality, customer care and sustainability. We’ve been delighted to be involved in the expansion of what is a forward looking and innovative operation, one that’s confidently breaking into important new markets and creating vital local jobs, despite the tough economic climate.”

All crab processed at the plant is caught in Orkney and Shetland waters by local creel fishermen using traditional methods. Sustainability remains the highest priority for OFS, with the cooperative – now in its 59th year – leading research initiatives and tagging schemes aimed at ensuring crab stocks remain healthy and protected for future generations of local fishermen.

ENDS

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