County Durham firm Collins Seafoods on the acquisition trail

The County Durham company was first set up by Richard Collins in 1980 who filled a van with fresh fish to supply local restaurants, hotels, bars and fish and chip shops

A fishing boat brings in its catch at Eyemouth harbour, in the Scottish Borders
A fishing boat brings in its catch at Eyemouth harbour, in the Scottish Borders

Frozen fish specialists Collins Seafoods are looking to serve up in the south after a strong trading year saw sales top £39m.

The County Durham company was first set up by Richard Collins in 1980 who filled a van with fresh fish to supply local restaurants, hotels, bars and fish and chip shops.

Over the last 34 years the firm has grown to employ 30 people, taking in fish trawled from the Faroe Islands, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Germany, France, Spain and UK waters to distribute to wholesalers and fish and chip suppliers across the country.

The business expanded its reach in 2011 after acquiring Wraggs wholesalers in Leeds – and now Mr Collins has said he is eyeing expansion in the south.

He said: “With our depot in Newton Aycliffe and the depot in Leeds we’ve got access to everything north of the Midlands and have wholesalers throughout the UK and Ireland.

“We expanded three years ago when we acquired the Leeds business and I think we will acquire more in the future.

“We’re looking all the time. We’ve got irons in the fire and where we are looking is more down south – I expect we’ll have news in 2015.”

The growth plan comes as latest accounts show a 1.2% lift in turnover for the year ended June 30, from £38.8m to £39.3m.

Pre tax profits more than doubled from £582,305 to £1.26m, while shareholder funds also rose from £2.25m to £2.87m.

The lift in sales and profits came during a period in which the economic climate continued to be challenging for the food sector, with reductions in cod prices also affecting trade – produce costs which were out of the company’s control and dependent upon market forces.

Since the end of the financial year, however, Mr Collins said produce prices had risen, predominantly due to large amounts of fish trawled making its way to Russia.

Demand for fish in Russia has forced up costs here in the UK, creating a stronger market for Mr Collins to operate in and create greater confidence for growth.

“The last financial year was very good for us, and this year is going well too. We are seeing price increases and that’s probably due to a lot of fish going back to Russia, which is producing a strong market in Europe, America and Russia.

“Two years ago the prices collapsed and that’s when I opened up to different markets and different vessels, so we now buy fish from Russia, the Faroe Islands, , Norway, Iceland, Poland – all over.

“The fish and chip sector is pretty strong – it’s always been a traditional market but we are now seeing big investments being made by companies who are opening bigger, more modern fish and chip shops, so it’s in good health at the moment.”

Mr Collins said expansion would lead to investments in staff, having already made heavy investments at the acquired Leeds business.

“We’ve had big expenses in Leeds, getting a new warehouse, stores and new vehicles, which cost around £1.25m, and then we had the business cost on top of that. We are quite well fitted out but going forward we will need to employ more people.

“Things are looking good for the next 12 months – prices can go up and down and are affected by all kinds of factors, including currency, but the market is strong at the moment.”

Last year Collins Seafoods picked up the Brakes Best Supplier 2012 Fish and Seafood award.

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