Loch Fyne Oysters: Empowering Communities, Restoring Oyster Waters

“Johnny’s contribution to the Cairndow area transformed it from a place with few jobs, a dwindling population and little ambition to a thriving, forward thinking community” (Virginia Sumsion, Johnny Noble’s niece).

Loch Fyne is a Scottish sea loch or lake but it is also an internationally known seafood company that has a chain of 10 seafood restaurants across the UK.  It was set up in 1978 by Johnny Noble, a banker and wine merchant who had inherited the Ardkinglas Estate, and Andy Lane, a marine biology student who lived on the Estate. Confronted with substantial tax debts, Johnny was resolute in his determination to preserve the estate and create job opportunities for the local community. However, nothing he did worked until he met Andy in 1975. Although they had little in common they got on well and Andy suggested that Johnny should try oyster farming. In 1977, armed with only a few hundred Portuguese oyster seeds, they embarked on this endeavour. By 2002, they were growing some 4 million, shipping 1.25 million overseas each year.

Starting the business was not easy, however, not least as it takes a minimum of  3 years for oysters to grow,  so cashflow was a problem and the banks were not convinced. As Andy says for years they were subjected to ridicule “as the idea of growing oysters in Loch Fyne was mad and the idea of having an oyster bar anywhere outside of London was too”. Whenever they borrowed money Johnny always had to guarantee the loan but after building a smokehouse and producing smoked salmon  this began to change . They opened a shop and a picnic area and then, in 1998, founded Loch Fyne Restaurants which, at its peak, had 40 outlets across the country, known for the quality of their seafood.

The success of Loch Fyne was due largely to the founders, the philosophical, principled Andy and the wealthy extrovert John. While they complemented each other, they shared the company’s guiding philosophy of presenting “the best in authentic Scottish seafood whilst minimising our environmental impact and making a positive contribution to the community”. Not only did they only source their salmon products from approved growers with the highest level of animal welfare, but the principled Andy, for example, cancelled a large contract with a major retailer because he did not like the way they conducted their business. Furthermore, they recognised the contribution of the workforce and the significant role they played in the company’s success, through “hard work and willingness to improve and develop”.

Sadly, in 2002 Johnny died and the business was bought for £3.9 million by its 110 employees with the help of the Baxi Partnership, a trust that provides support services to companies that want to become employee owned. In 2005 Andy retired and in 2008 the restaurant chain was sold to Greene King Breweries for £68 million while the employee owned company was taken over by Scottish Seafood Investment in 2012, for an undisclosed sum. However Loch Fyne Oysters still owns the Loch Fyne brand, and not only supplies to airlines and restaurant and hotel chains, has attracted other producers to the area, including cheese makers and breweries. So, as claimed by Virginia, Johnny did transform Cairndown, along with his business partner, Andy Lane. 

Since Loch Fyne was concerned to “make as much money as possible”, but in accordance with “ethical custom” and not at the expense of people and planet, it can be classified as an example of harmonious entrepreneurship. The company can also be seen to address SDGs, 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and 14 (Life Below Water).

Over the years Loch Fyne has won numerous awards, and on two occasions, in 1994 and 2014, it received the prestigious Queens Award for Enterprise for its contribution to exports.


Kaloudis, H., (2017), The story of Loch Fyne Oysters by David Erdal: lessons from a case study in employee-ownership.Medium.com. July 7th.

Sumsion, V. (undated), Johnny Noble the Founder of Loch Fyne Oysters. Coast (coast.whc@uhi.ac.uk).

© Harmonious-Entrepreneurship.org / Harmonious Entrepreneurship Ltd. (2020-2023). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author(s) noted is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harmonious-Entrepreneurship.org/ Harmonious Entrepreneurship Ltd with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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