Next port of call

Mon 2nd July 2012, 4:31 pm

From thriving fishing port to the country’s leading food-processing base, North East Lincolnshire has diversified and is welcoming a new set of businesses to its shores.

Grimsby: Port is welcoming new businesses

The straight-talking people of North East Lincolnshire are hardworking, forward thinking and immensely proud of their area.

And they have a great deal to be proud of.

This vibrant north east corner of Lincolnshire boasts Europe’s Food Town – Grimsby, the UK’s busiest container port and a popular seaside destination.

It is surrounded by stunning countryside, is centrally located north to south within the UK, easily accessible from mainland Europe and offers a cost-effective, well-connected business location.

The name Grimsby is thought to come from the Danes, who settled here in the ninth century.

‘By’ meant ‘village’ and ‘Grim’ was supposedly the name of the fisherman who established the settlement.

Located on the river Haven, which flows into the Humber, Grimsby’s access to the North Sea enabled it to grow as a fishing village, until it received its charter from King John in 1201, allowing the townspeople a set of rights.

The 19th century saw another burst of growth as the port was improved and trade increased dramatically.

By the 1920s, Grimsby was the largest and most prosperous fishing port in the world.

Today, North East Lincolnshire has a population of around 156,000 and the combined port of Grimsby and Immingham is the country’s largest by tonnage.

Its history and character are well known and a good draw for visitors, particularly due to its status as an unplanned stopover for the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower in 1608.

While fishing is no longer the area’s main industry, North East Lincolnshire has successfully diversified, building on its skills and expertise, expanding to become one of Europe’s biggest food manufacturing, research, storage and distribution bases.

Benefiting from a prime deepwater location on the Humber Estuary, Immingham provides daily access to the trade routes between the UK and Scandinavia, the Baltic states and mainland Europe.

The port’s links extend to North and South America, Africa, Australia, the Middle East and the Far East with 60 sailings weekly.

With its strategic position and wealth of experience, Grimsby is a natural hub for handling fish.

Eighty per cent of the UK’s seafood processors are located here, as well as around 500 food-related companies, which is how Grimsby earned its reputation as Europe’s Food Town.

In November 2009, the town received a new accolade: the European Union awarded Grimsby Traditional Smoked Fish – the region’s delicacy – a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

It is similar to the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in France, which is an indication of quality not just for wines but for dairy products, meat, poultry and processed foods.

Richard Enderby, chairman of Grimsby Traditional Fish Smokers Group, explains the significance of the PGI award.

“We were the 39th town in Britain to receive a PGI, and one of only four seafood producers.

"One of the reasons we got the PGI was to highlight the premium nature of our product.

"We do traditional smoking in brick chimneys, whereas the vast majority of smoking in this country is done in kilns, which are electrically heated.

"Ours is a natural, slower process, so it’s a very green process.

"There is a lot of knowledge and expertise that keeps Grimsby as one of the premier fish processing places in Europe.

"It is not by accident that, despite the Cod Wars and the trawlers being tied up, the processing side is still very vibrant and progressive.”

Grimsby’s traditional smoked fish is world-renowned and is enjoying renewed popularity in an era when people are seeking sustainably produced food and have a greater awareness about quality.

It has many high-profile fans, including Rick Stein, who has made the producers one of his Food Heroes.

“I visited Grimsby in 1998 and was amazed at the skill involved in traditional fish smoking.

"It is worlds apart from computer-controlled kiln drying. If it were in France, it would have an Appellation Contrôlée,” says Stein. The PGI backs up his claim.

Fish is certainly not just a remnant of Grimsby’s past. It is rather what links the area’s past to its future.

Adam Breeze, an inward investment consultant who advises international companies on where to locate, explains: “The North East Lincolnshire story offers a clear lesson in how places can evolve and adapt to the needs of modern business.

"The way that the area has transformed itself from its days as the world’s largest fishing port into a thriving and diversified industrial location, shows what can be achieved with the right vision supported by the will of local people.”

The opening of the £15 million Grimsby Fish Market in 1996, one of the most advanced facilities of its type in the UK, was a clear indication of Grimsby’s commitment to remaining at the centre of the seafood industry.

A full version of this article is available in the print edition of Heartland magazine.

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