Seafood executives are in an optimistic space right now, with many saying they expect higher revenues, more M&A activity and more investment in infrastructure and new product development in the coming year.
That's according to results of an exclusive email survey IntraFish conducted with over 300 top global seafood industry executives earlier this year. The survey's findings were revealed during the IntraFish Leadership Breakfast during Seafood Expo North America in Boston in March.
The survey respondents represented various sectors of the seafood industry, but largely self-identified as being in the aquaculture, processing, wholesaling and distribution sectors.
Around 60 percent of the respondents identified as CEO or CFO, or as a vice president or upper management. Around 21 percent of the respondents identified as middle management.
Around 36 percent of the companies derive the majority of their sales from North America, 38 percent from Europe and 19.5 percent from Asia.
Nearly 90 percent of the respondents said in the survey they were "very confident" or "somewhat confident" the economy will grow over the next 12 months. And nearly all of them said they expect their company's revenues to grow by at least 10 percent over the next year. Twenty percent of respondents said they expected revenues to grow by more than 20 percent. Most respondents also anticipate increasing capital expenditures this year, with 45 percent expecting capital expenditures to grow by up to 10 percent.
90% said they were confident the economy will grow over the next 12 months.
Respondents were split over whether these capital expenditures will go to infrastructure, with around 42 percent stating they plan to "build, construct or significantly expand" any of their current facilities, and 39 percent stating this was not in their plans. Around 19 percent of respondents stated they were unsure about whether they would expand their facilities this year.
Responses were similarly split when companies were asked whether they were "currently considering acquisitions or joint ventures," with about 41 percent answering "yes," and 37 percent stating they were not at this time.
More than 50 percent of the respondents agreed however that the seafood industry will see higher levels of M&A in the coming 12 months compared with last year's level. Around 39 percent noted M&A activity would be around the same as last year.
Around 70 percent of respondents answered "yes" when asked whether they would be expanding either their product line or production volume this year, speaking to the growing demand for seafood worldwide.
Over 50% agreed the seafood industry will see higher levels of M&A in the coming 12 months
The survey also revealed the three biggest challenges for seafood companies this year: finding qualified staff, the price of raw material and regulations.
Over 50 percent of the respondents to the survey agreed the United States holds the greatest potential for growth in seafood sales over the next year, followed by China.
Investor panel weighs in on salmon's 'super-profits'
The panel dove into the super-cycle farmed salmon has been riding in recent years. The United States will prove a key market for the salmon sector in coming years, panelists conceded.
Panelists included Antarctica Advisors Managing Partner Ignacio Kleiman; Seafood People Managing Director Thomas Bakke; Pareto Securities Partner Kristoffer Jordheim; DNB Senior Global Seafood VP Freyr Thordarson; and Salmon Group CEO Anne-Kristine Oen.
70% of respondents said they would be expanding either their product line or production volume
Salmon has experienced a "super-profit" cycle this year in particular, the panelists said. "The valuations are also implying that companies continue to have super margins," said Jordheim. "It's easier for companies to accept now than it was a few years ago. That's why we're seeing large acquisitions in Chile by AquaChile and Australis by Legend Holdings."
Diversification is key
Kleinman said the time has come for the industry -- salmon in particular -- to rely so heavily on one species.
"That's a super high risk for anyone investing," he said. "When you have cycles of super-high profits, you have to make sure to diversify. You have to play the chess game the right way."
Jordheim pointed out Norwegian salmon companies are generally family-owned versus investor-owned, and would need more justification than simply financial gain in order to diversify as Kleinman suggests.
"They still have so much to do in their existing business," he said. "They pay dividends to the investors, and the investors are fine to diversify themselves."
Norwegian salmon companies are vertically integrated, Thordarson added, and already invested in salmon's distribution chain and in new frontiers, such as research and design.
"I would like to see more of the non-salmon industry invest in salmon," he said, as one way the industry can move forward and grow in areas such as the United States.
Over 50% agreed the US holds the greatest potential for growth, followed by China
Thordarson pointed out the salmon industry, while highly valued with increasing interest from investors both inside and outside of seafood, still lacks when it comes to digital and technical innovation.
"On the research and design side, we're doing well," he said. "But we need to invest more in the digital space. I don't know if companies have chief IT officers in the seafood space. I think we're missing that link."
The real challenge for the seafood industry is a cultural one, said Bakke.
"Many in our industry don't seem like they have the module to learn,"he said, adding that a seafood CEO's narrow outlook can also factor into why the company doesn't think it needs to hire a specialist to handle issues such as IT.
That issue is only going to be solved by opening up the seafood industry to younger participants, and by hiring people outside of the seafood industry, said Oen.
Bringing seafood into the digital age is going to come about through the next generation and not likely through the panelists on stage, she said.