THE region's only oyster farm has won a major new wholesale contract after receiving a grant to invest in new equipment.
Lindisfarne Oysters, which is run by the Sutherland family at Ross Farm off the coast of Holy Island, received more than £25,000 in funding from England’s Marine Management Organisation and the European Fisheries Fund towards the £100,000 grading and washing machine.
The equipment can clean and sort up to 9,000 oysters an hour, helping the business to clinch a contract with Wright Brothers, which requires 4,000 to 5,000 oysters a week to supply to top London restaurants.
The farm has now set itself the initial target of supplying 250,000 oysters a year and ultimately aims to process one million shellfish per annum by 2015.
Christopher Sutherland, who runs Lindisfarne Oysters with his wife Helen and their three children, said: “The equipment sorts and grades in two hours the same quantity of oysters that we used to do in a day using a pair of scales.
“It means we can supply lots of oysters which we couldn’t do before. When I first took over the farm from my father in 2003 the numbers of oysters we produced was very low, but we’ve continued to build our knowledge and skills and hope to eventually produce up to 250,000 a year by 2013.
“This is the second grant we’ve received through European funding schemes. The first was in 2007 for a specialist oyster boat, which made the process of farming the oysters significantly easier.
“The latest grant will help us significantly with our expansion plans as it will help us to put the necessary infrastructure in place.”
Wright Brothers supplies Lindisfarne oysters to both their Borough Market and Soho seafood restaurants and many top London restaurants such as Bibendum, J Sheekeys and Hix.
Michael Walder, wholesale development manager, said: “Restaurants like to have a circular supply of oysters – they will use oysters from one region for a while, and move on to another in order to offer variety and to maintain quality for their clientele.
“We look to list oyster suppliers who are consistent with their quality supply and there also needs to be a story in place about their product and provenance. A combination of these needs to be in place for us to list a product.”
Lindisfarne Oysters. which has eight staff, is part of regional food group Taste North East, which works to find new markets and opportunities for local food and drink businesses.
Mr Sutherland is especially keen to get into the lucrative French market.
Taste North East business development manager Jane Hogan said: “Lindisfarne Oysters is a great example of a real niche, local food business which is attracting nationwide attention because of its quality products.
“Now that the Sutherland family have the capability of producing so many more oysters, it really opens up the opportunities available to them.
“We are working to identify new routes to markets with other wholesalers and we’re confident that French oyster lovers will soon be able to get a taste of Northumberland.”