Pilar Cruz has been with US-based animal nutrition behemoth Cargill for 17 years, leading its business around the world, with stints in Canada, the United States, Costa Rica, the UK and Nicaragua. Now she's taken on a massive new challenge: heading up one of the feed giant's most dynamic divisions as president of Cargill Aqua Nutrition.

Shifting to the role from her position as president of Cargill's compound feed business in last month's management reshuffle at the $115 billion (€104 billion) group, Cruz is excited about the possibilities for growth she sees in aquaculture.

Closer to the customer

Many of Cruz's past roles have been in strategy, starting with the company in 2002 as a business analyst and rapidly climbing up the corporate ladder through various general manager roles, and serving as an integration manager at Cargill Meats Central America. More recently, she spent a two-year stint as corporate vice president for corporate strategy and development.

And this, she believes, has prepared her to take the aquaculture business forward, listing "strategic growth, finding new opportunities and identifying customer preference," as skills she will bring to the role.

"Strategy focuses on getting as close to our customers as possible," Cruz tells IntraFish.

'Phenomenal' aquaculture opportunities

A veteran of the warmwater space, Cargill moved heavily into salmon with its 2015 acquisition of Norwegian feed company Ewos and the species continues to be a focus, alongside shrimp and tilapia.

With presence in all the key aquaculture markets -- China, SE Asia, India, Chile, Canada, Norway -- Cruz says the company is well-located in places where they see opportunity for growth.

Cruz sees particular potential in Asia Pacific and in Ecuador, where she visited at the beginning of this month in one of the first trips in her new role. The company made a $70 million investment last year in a new shrimp feed mill with capacity to supply around 20 percent of the 800,000 metric tons of feed that the Ecuadorian market currently demands.

Ecuador's shrimp markets are just one of the many markets Cruz sees opportunities to expand.

"We follow demand and where GDP [gross domestic product] is growing and there are phenomenal opportunities in Asia Pacific and the US markets," she said.

Aquaculture's grand purpose

Cruz sees the industry is not without challenges, citing the need for aquaculture to more than double its production by 2050 in order to keep up with protein demand.

"There are social and environmental challenges," said Cruz. "Feed has a major influence over that."

The aquaculture industry is also perfectly positioned for the growing demand for companies to operate in a more sustainable way, particularly in food.

"It is fair to say that feed conversion is higher [in aquaculture] than other sectors so there are greater opportunities for aquaculture to feed the world in a safe and sustainable way," Cruz said. "This is what we think about when we think about our purpose."

The race to novel ingredients, digitalization

Cargill is heavily investing in what's become aquaculture's "space race" --

finding alternative feed ingredients to replace the EPA and DHA that traditionally come from static supplies of fishmeal and oil.

To reach those goals, the company has formed important partnerships, such as with InnovaFeed and White Dog Labs, to seek out and utilize novel and unique ingredients in its feed.

"I'm not sure we as an industry are doing enough, but as a company we look at this every single day -- to identify partners and suppliers in relation to quality and sustainability," said Cruz.

"It is a great opportunity; consumers care so much now about where their food comes from."

New strategic feed ingredients is just one of the key developments Cruz forsees happening in the aquaculture sector over the next few years, with digitalization also high on her docket.

The digitalization of the industry, using available data to plan and predict will "continue to drive better efficiency," said Cruz, who cites MyEwos, the cloud based digital platform Cargill developed with its acquisition of the salmon feed specialist four years ago.

"It has been key in developing new solutions," said Cruz.

It is a modernization that has already brought huge efficiencies to the beef and poultry sectors. Cruz sees many synergies between the three protein sectors that Cargill is strongest in, not least in farmers' individual strenuous efforts towards sustainability.

"There are many different practices, but farmers around the world are committed to being sustainable, efficient and giving customers what they want."


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