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Meet the man behind the Norwegian salmon ATMs

A growing success story, the company is now looking to franchises in other markets.

By the end of July the company behind Singapore's surprise spate of salmon vending machines will have 100 installed across the city, its Norwegian Founder Manish Kumar told IntraFish.

Growth has been steady for a concept that some describe as "bizarre", others as "brilliant", and Kumar is pleased with progress.

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Back in 2009, travelling frequently as a SalMar sales executive based in the salmon mecca of Froya, it struck Kumar that salmon in many export markets was considered expensive and exclusive.

"I had the vision to make it time and cost effective," he said when IntraFish spoke with him at this year's Thaifex show in Bangkok.

And so, a few years later, the company Norwegian Salmon was born, and Kumar and his team began installing their proprietary machines in shopping malls and housing condominiums across Singapore.

Why Singapore? "For many, many reasons," said Kumar, but not least because it is one of the most developed countries in Asia with secure financing, a safe and clean environment and, perhaps most importantly, a love of salmon, particularly Norwegian salmon.

Supplied in large part by SalMar, the 200-gram salmon fillets dispensed by the machines are frozen down to below -20 degree Celsius before being shipped to Singapore and stocked in the ATMs by a 24-hour support team.

"There has in the past been the perception of frozen being bad," said Kumar, saying that, in fact, frozen, especially deep frozen, is often fresher than so-called "fresh" product in supermarkets. At these temperatures, the salmon also has a shelf-life of 24 months, enabling Kumar's vision of a more cost-effective, efficient distribution and sales process.

Smart machines drive ease of operation

The mechanics of the ATMs themselves are part of the company's unique intellectual property, and as such, Kumar will divulge nothing more than that they utilize smart technology. The machines will report a fault and communicate to the support team when its inventory is lower than 30 percent, allowing immediate repair or restocking.

It's a novel concept and one that has drawn a lot of feedback, both good and bad. One thing Kumar is certain of, though, is there are never complaints once the machine is used and the salmon sampled.

So confident is he in the concept that later this year, new double-fronted machines will be brought in to operation, one side stocking frozen salmon fillets, the other featuring 100-gram packs of slice, chilled natural-smoked salmon, both retailing at SGD 5.90 (€3.83/$4.28) per pack.

Kumar's growth model focuses on franchising the set-up, and he has had plenty of interest in both his target market of Southeast Asia as well as in in Sweden and Canada.

"I'm happy," said Kumar.

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