Belfast's oldest fishmonger has dipped its toe into the export world after impressing buyers from Dubai.
A new smoked salmon product from Ewing's Seafoods will soon be on sale in Dubai's retail outlets and gracing tables at its high end restaurants.
Ewing's were helped to identify the United Arab Emirates (UAE) business opportunity by Andrew Rooney of Rooney Fish in Kilkeel.
The leading fish merchant served Ewing's smoked salmon at a recent dinner in the Co Down fishing village for UAE customers, who then signed a contract for the quality local product.
Ewing's Belfast factory and shop, based at Kendal Street and the Shankill Road respectively, is run by Walter Ewing and his sons Crawford and Warren.
Originally opened by Walter's father Matthew in 1911, Ewing's supplies a wide range of fresh fish to 300 restaurants across Northern Ireland and to the people of Belfast and beyond.
Crawford Ewing, director of the family-owned business which employs 17 staff and has 10 refrigerated vans, told Business Telegraph the whole team is thrilled with the new export business to Dubai and said he is thankful to be operating in a "healthy and lively" market.
"We were delighted to receive the call from Andrew Rooney to supply our new smoked salmon for their dinner and then to win business with their customers in Dubai," Crawford said.
"We are finding business pretty good and consider ourselves very lucky.
"Times are tough, but people have to eat and the restaurants we supply to are keeping busy.
"Fish used to be eaten just on a Friday, but now everybody is more aware of its health benefits and it also gets a good press."
Ewing's was recently joined by Glenarm Organic Salmon, Rooney Fish and Kilhorne Bay Seafoods on an Invest NI trade mission organised to help the industry explore and exploit new business opportunities in the USA and Asia.
Crawford said the expertise and support provided by the business development agency has been invaluable to Ewing's and revealed he is currently researching new potential export markets.
"I am looking forward to visiting Dubai again next month," he said.
"Invest NI support has been first class. We originally asked them for help with packaging and it grew from there. They thought the product was fantastic and one thing led to another.
"We are now looking to supply to places such as Boston, Hong Kong and the Netherlands.
"We're hugely encouraged by comments from retail and food service buyers about the taste, quality and texture of our smoked salmon.
"As a result, we believe that the market opportunity for the smoked salmon is very exciting."
Belfast-born artist Oliver Jeffers did the artwork for the new Ewing's packaging. Featuring images of Walter Ewing and referencing the businesses 1911 roots, it gives Ewing's a strong corporate identity.
"People are responding very well to the new look and rebrand," Crawford said. "Our wee fish shop has been feeding the people of Belfast and elsewhere for over 100 years now and that achievement is very appealing to people."
Ewing's new smoked salmon product has also attracted attention from luxury food and drink buyers at Selfridges in London.
"While we've been smoking fish in Belfast for many years in our own kiln, mostly for high quality restaurants and hotels throughout Northern Ireland, the introduction of the smoked salmon from Glenarm Organic is a relatively recent development," Crawford said.
"It's proving to be a wonderful product that's attracting tremendously positive feedback, especially from high-end retailers and food service operators in Britain and abroad.
"Glenarm Organic Salmon is the best ingredient. I love that area.
"The water is so clear and fish pens are fantastic.
"The fish being organic and only 20 miles up the road from us are two other great selling points."
Maynard Mawhinney, Invest NI director of food and tourism, said the new contract for Ewing's is an excellent example of the open collaboration within the local seafood sector, involving progressive companies committed to market-led innovation.
"In addition to support to develop sales outside Northern Ireland, we've assisted Ewing's to create a new corporate identity and to develop an innovative packaging both of which are strengthening its retail position in national and international markets," he said. "Our support for Ewing's and other companies in the sector to encourage sales and collaboration indicates our conviction that the local seafood industry has innovative products with the provenance and heritage that customers in retailing and food service are increasingly demanding from their suppliers."
Belfast-based fishmongers Ewing's Seafoods was opened in 1911 by Matthew Ewing. His son Walter runs the business, with his sons Crawford and Warren. Ewing's employs 17 staff at its factory in Kendal Street and shop on the Shankill Road. Its social media sites include Facebook and Twitter @ewingseafoods. A new online shop is being launched soon. For more information www.ewingseafoods.com