It started more than 55 years ago as Springs Smoked Salmon. A mother and father who were known as the Harris’ had some friends called the Pinneys who would show them how to smoke salmon.
“The mother started selling it out the kitchen window of the house, and from there they started growing the business,” said Simon Owen, the current owner of Springs Smokery, in Edburton, southern England.
“They ended up building old traditional smokers, a slicing room and a shop. They grew it from there.”
They built up such a good reputation that the business was selling its produce to British Airways, El Al, Harrods and more.
But about five years ago, their sons took over the business. Two of their sons had left, but the other two continued it until they retired.
Mr Owen said: “They were going to shut the business until I got involved. I took it over with a friend of mine. We continued it. Same staff and everything. We’ve just been trying to keep it going since.”
“We call it Spring Smokeries now. It’s the same site as we bought it. We continue to run it in the same traditional way as it always has done but just modernised it.”
“When the Harris’ ran it, they wanted to keep everything traditional. Gradually, their market share shrunk because everyone could do it cheaper, and so we just continued it but with modernisation.”
“When the Harris’ had it, it was more old school. We got a food technologist in, slicing machines, refrigerator etc. So basically, we updated everything from order processing to food accreditation to make it a more modern as-it-can-be business.”
Much like the Ugie Smokehouse in Scotland, Mr Owen says he’s trying to steer clear of machinery to try and keep everything as traditional as possible.
“If we go down the route of a machine, we could do it for cheaper,” he told Salmon Business.
“Anything done in a machine more or less tastes the same. For us, it’s just a matter of keep going.”
Price, the weather and changing human eating habits
It’s not just the rise of machinery that has made Mr Owen question certain business operations. The price of salmon has also become troublesome.
Mr Owen said: “We do struggle because of price fixing that does go on with salmon. When the demand is low, the price is low. If it’s a constant price, we can compete. The bigger ones can absorb the price increases a lot easier than we can.”
But the price challenges don’t appear to have stopped the business. It now turns over £1.4 million in profit each year and produces around 10 tonnes of salmon each week.
Mr Owen explained that the business used to just get salmon from one supplier in Scotland, but has recently opened that up to larger suppliers in other parts of Europe.
“If you get any bad weather in Scotland then you have a delay for three to four days,” he told Salmon Business.
“We buy from three different farms, but we only buy superior fish. We’re trying to go down the route of not buying salmon with antibiotics but you can only get it from a few places and one is Iceland.
“But you can’t always get supply from them. We only take farmed. For us as a smaller business you can only buy what you need. We used to buy sockeye but the prices tripled in the last two years, so all of a sudden will the consumer pay the extra.”
Mr Owen said people are becoming more conscious of what they eat so he would like to see less salmon farmed out in the sea and more farmed on land, without the need for antibiotics or colouring supplements.
He said: “I fully support farmed salmon as it’s sustainable, with wild salmon the seas need time to replenish without being overfished.”