South Africa's Sea Harvest: Strength in balance

After an 'eventful' year listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the firm is looking optimistically to the future. 

"It's been an eventful year," Konrad Geldenhuys, sales and marketing director at Sea Harvest said. "But then, every year seems to be an eventful one."

He was talking -- of course -- of Sea Harvest's listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in March this year, which opened a new chapter in the Cape Town-headquartered group's history. 

Sea Harvest has access to 28 percent of South Africa's hake quota, which in 2017 was set at 140,125 metric tons.

And despite the eventful past years, "stability" is perhaps the best word to describe the group's operations. 

The company has been operating in South Africa for 53 years, and in 2016 entered the Australian market with the acquisition of a 56 percent stake in Australian company Mareterram Limited, which operates Nor-West Seafood.

Cape hake is a large part of Sea Harvest’s business but it is also involved, through its presence in Australia, with other high value species including king and tiger shrimp, scallops, crabs, monkfish and king clip.

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Its focus now is on strengthening its position in existing markets and creating more value for the species in the domestic one, Geldenhuys told IntraFish during a recent visit of the firm's operations in Saldanha Bay. 

At its around 10,000-square meter big processing facility, located about 190 kilometers north of Cape Town, the company processes products for its main markets, which are Italy, Spain and Portugal. 

Annually, around 7,200 metric tons of fish is processed at the facility. 

In Italy, its biggest customer is Findus Italy -- part of Nomad Foods -- while in Spain it has a "long-standing relationship" with Pescanova, which now operates under Nueva Pescanova.  

More than 100 products are processed and packed for local and international markets at the fresh fish processing and value-added plant, Johan Le Grange, site manager at Sea Harvest, told IntraFish during the tour of the premises in Saldanha Bay.  

The 11 processing lines include portion cutters and formers, batter and crumb applicators, ingredient mixers and flash fryers. 

The biggest products are fillets, loins, steaks and moulded portions, which are plate-frozen, blast-frozen or individually quick frozen (IQF). 

Sea Harvest's value-added products are mainly destined for retailers in the domestic market, which is where the company is trying to "get the most out of the product," Le Grange said. 

"We're trying to drive value in the category locally," also said Geldenhuys. 

Currently, the company's local market share in frozen fish is at 37 percent, which is mainly driven by its branded products. 

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Part of it is also opening up more factory shops across South Africa. The company currently has seven -- one of which is in Saldanha Bay -- "but we want to roll out a couple every year," he said. 

In terms of international markets, the company is focusing on its existing ones also in the future. 

"The EU is so strong, we'd have to shift product away if we wanted to enter new ones," Geldenhuys said. 

The United Kingdom is "increasing slightly, maybe due to the strong haddock pricing," he said. The United States, on the other hand, is "limited."

Italy -- the group's biggest market -- has "suffered" with the economic downturn but the foodservice market is recovering and retail has gotten stronger, he said. 

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