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By adopting a more innovative approach to its business, Aberdeen-based seafood company Joseph Robertson has reinvented itself. The last decade has seen the company’s workforce increase from 50 to 225, while turnover has quadrupled.

Originally providing frozen fish to the food service market, family-owned business Joseph Robertson now supplies a range of chilled products to retailers across the UK. These include supermarket own-label brands and the company’s own Swankies and Get Hooked brands.

The business has gone through a transformation that’s boosted turnover from £8 million to £32 million, while jobs have more than quadrupled - from 50 employees to 225. Ryan Robertson, great-great grandson of the company’s founder, says the transformation wouldn’t have been possible without workplace innovation and help from Scottish Enterprise.

“We’re quite a small business in terms of this industry. Being family-owned we don’t have the same capabilities or resources as some of the big guys like Young’s and Birds Eye. We have to do something different to stand out and establish ourselves in the market,” he said.

Ryan describes some of the support Joseph Robertson has received, which has allowed the company to further its growth.

Mentorship

“One thing we pride ourselves on as a business is our ability to be innovative, creating new products to take into the marketplace. We’re always on the lookout for new ideas and trying to be first to market with innovations that set us apart.

“Scottish Enterprise has been working pretty closely with us for the last 15 years or so and the growth of the business is down in part to the programmes it’s created for us.”

Ryan entered the business four years ago, and last year participated in the company’s Management Development Programme, organised by Scottish Enterprise. It aims to give ambitious and talented young middle managers the tools and mentoring to reach senior management level.

“It was probably a year that the whole course lasted, during which we were set goals and targets, and working on a combined project for the business that we could implement to try to bring value to it,” said Ryan.

Shared values

“The biggest thing that we got out of the programme was a sense of common shared values. It’s helped everyone in the group grow within their roles and realise how key they are to the success of the business.

“Being in Aberdeen, we have to compete with the big salaries in the oil and gas industry. But this programme has helped us to hold onto everyone and keep progressing their careers while moving the business forward.”

New business models

The company was recognised for its efforts with the Investing in Skills Development Award at 2016’s annual Grampian Food Forum Awards. Ryan reckons it’s a model that could easily be employed elsewhere.

“A lot of the skills and one-on-one mentoring involved in the programme would, I think, be very useful to a lot of other businesses,” he said. “What it shows is a willingness to invest in the future.

“Times are tough right now, but it’s important for businesses not to be scared, to put investment in now to get reward for it further down the line.

Future growth

“We’ve seen growth year-on-year for the past ten years and the support mechanism Scottish Enterprise provides has definitely played a key role in how our business has been able to adapt.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of the market and the fact we’re a relatively small business, compared to the main players in our industry, means we’re always forced to try to look one step ahead.

“With funds, resources and the knowledge they’ve been able to pass on, Scottish Enterprise has allowed us to do that.”

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