HB Grandi CEO talks investments, challenges and markets

Top exec sits down with IntraFish in Reykjavik.

Icelandic fishing group HB Grandi is looking back at a period of internal investments in a bid to "strengthen the company from inside."

Sitting down with IntraFish during a visit in Reykjavik, CEO Vilhjalmur Vilhjalmsson said the focus is on adapting to the changing market -- and the recent investments fit in well.

"Our biggest challenge is to survive and to do better than today," Vilhjalmsson said.

The company has been renewing part of its fleet and is expecting three new state-of-the-art trawlers by 2017.

Here, investments are centred around improving working conditions for the crews, Vilhjalmsson said, as well as to have a more sustainable and greener fleet.

In Vopnafjordur, the company is building a new groundfish plant, as a result of a disastrous capelin season, which threatened to have a huge impact on the local workforce.

"Pelagic processing there is just going down but we want to offer them [the local community] year-round employment," Vilhjalmsson said. "Everything there is about us. We're responsible for them."

In addition, it is expanding its offices and pelagic processing facility in Reykjavik. "It was just getting too small," Brynjolfur Eyjolfsson, marketing manager at HB Grandi, told IntraFish during the visit.

"We're very concentrated on corporate social responsibility, are trying to decrease the impact on the environment," Vilhjalmsson added. "We're strengthening the company from inside with these investments."

Uncertainties ahead

The time was right for both processing and fishing vessel investments, the top exec believes.

However, the future isn't without challenges: Icelandic politics are as usual a struggle, the Icelandic kroner has strengthened significantly over the past year, and pelagic stocks are fluctuating.

In addition, HB Grandi has lost three major markets in recent years; the Ukraine, Russia and Nigeria, which is still impacting market prices for mackerel and frozen-at-sea redfish.

Brexit is also a concern, Vilhjalmsson said, due to the weakening British pound.

Diversification both in terms of products and markets is therefore key. HB Grandi exports to more than 40 countries, Eyjolfsson said, and most of them are "very stable."

The variety of species HB Grandi has quotas for "levels us out" if one stock is struggling, he said. The company is Iceland's biggest quota holder with 10.33 percent of the total 2016-2017 fishing season.

Vilhjalmsson declined to comment on the company's outlook for the 2016 financial year. "But we're relatively satisfied with the current situation," he said.


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