Seafood Connection opens US sales office

Kevin Voisin - Monday, October 12, 2015

By Neil Ramsden
Under Current News

Dutch seafood distributor Seafood Connection is to open a US sales office as part of parent Maruha Nichiro's strategy of growing international sales.

The office, which will open in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by September, will be the Japanese giant's latest attempt to sell more volumes into existing markets, Klaas-Hessel van Eerde, sales director for retail and sushi, told Undercurrent News.

“[The move] fits in the corporate strategy of Maruha Nichiro to grow in overseas sales, and with the experience in trading and the sourcing network of Seafood Connection, it is a perfect match with the current activities in the US,” he said.

“MN acquired Seafood Connection for the overseas sales, and in this case for the European market. They asked us to use our experience to set up a trading office in the US and use the network of MN.”

The office will look to sell the “top ten most consumed seafood items in the US,” said van Eerde. This would mean shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, tilapia, pollock, pangasius, cod and more.

Maruha Nichiro already owns pollock, salmon and Pacific cod operations in Alaska, which would likely tie in nicely with a US sales office.

Seafood Connection plans to employ three or four people in the Florida office, and is currently looking to hire people with US seafood sales experience.

“It is part of our strategy that we believe in local people who know the market and the culture of the country, so we do for the US.”

Van Eerde will go to the US to set up the office, alongside the local talent. For now the focus will be on learning the market, before moving into promotional and sales activities.

Seafood Connection does not yet export to the US, making this a new venture, but it does have a Vietnam office which serves some US firms with sourcing and quality control. The seafood sent to the new US office will be sourced from Vietnam, Asia in general, and will also make use of Maruha Nichiro's network, he said.

In establishing a US office, Seafood Connection will look to work closely with US customers in wholesale, foodservice and retail. As mentioned, there is already some connection with US buyers, and Seacon America will hope to foster and add to these.

First Spain, now the US

This is the second expansive move for Seafood Connection in a short space of time. In June the company announced the opening of an office in Madrid, Spain, as part of its push to expand in southern Europe.

“Expansion towards Spain was needed because of increase in activities on the Spanish and Portuguese market,” said the company, which is backed by the world’s largest seafood company, Tokyo-based Maruha Nichiro, since last year.

Seafood Connection’s current focus is to expand its business into the south European countries in which shrimps and cephalopods products play an important role.

Products can be delivered from various coldstores located in key areas around Madrid, Barcelona and Vigo.

One of Europe’s biggest importers of frozen pangasius fillets into Vietnam, Seafood Connection’s core business is import, export and distribution of deep-frozen fish products to Europe.

The company, which also supplies retailers in northern Europe, says it moves around 25,000 metric tons of fish products a year in Europe.

Growth driver

Maruha Nichiro, one of the world’s largest seafood companies by turnover, expects its upstream, overseas and frozen foods businesses to drive growth in profit in its current fiscal year.

In contrast, profit in its biggest-earning division, trading of marine products, is expected to drop by more than a fifth, revealed the company in a detailed forecast on May 30.

The forecast showed the Japanese group expects total operating profit to hit JPY 11 billion in its current financial year (ending March 31 next year), up just 4% from JPY 10.6bn ($102m) in the financial year that just ended.

This will be driven by a jump in the frozen foods division, which is forecast to triple its profit to JPY 1.2bn. The division is home to the brands Akebono, Aquli and Yayoi.

The overseas business — which excludes North American operations — is forecast to grow by just JPY 400m, but that would represent an 80% growth still, to JPY 900m. That unit grew last year notably thanks to the company’s acquisition of a controlling stake in the Dutch seafood trader Seafood Connection.

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