Branding is at the core of New Zealand King Salmon’s strategy
“We farm a unique and rare species. We think we’re getting the highest price in the world for our salmon,” said Grant Rosewarne, before explaining, “There are just five companies that farm King in the world.”
The New Zealand King Salmon chief exec has travelled halfway around the world to reach process equipment maker Marel’s Salmon Showhow outside of Copenhagen. He underlines the importance of having a superior product.
“It isn’t salmo salar, it’s King. The Canadians call it Chinook. Americans call it King. Chinook is a marketing disaster. King is good,” he said.
They’re a difficult species to farm: finicky; difficult to feed and challenging to mature.
“It was farmed in fairly large volume in Western Canada and down the coast of the U.S., but they gave up,” Rosewarne said.
New Zealand’s market leader, his company produces 8,000 tonnes of King a year. With demand high, less supply is important.
“We operate with fixed prices. We have never had to reduce prices, and, by God, we would rather not have to,” Rosewarne said.
By “never” he means not since 2008, the year he was hired and the company started to seriously focus on its brand. His firm prices stance isn’t surprising, if you consider that Rosewarne’s previous work was for Unilver and coffee company, Douwe Egbert.
“I’ve done most of the categories of supermarket,” he admitted.
Now, New Zealand King sells gutted, whole salmon at USD 13 a kilogram Freight On-Board Nelson, New Zealand. The market is high-end.
“Wagyu beef, Patagonian toothfish, lobster — that’s what we’re up against,” he told SalmonBusiness.
At the same time, production conditions Down Under are unique.
“We don’t have ISA, IPN and all the other salmon sicknesses, but do get diseases when it’s too hot. And we don’t have sea lice. We export about 60 percent of our volume to 15 countries. Government hasn’t set aside production areas for the industry. We see a shortage of support from local and central authorities.”
“We produce 50 percent of the world’s King salmon. There are two of us in Canada and three in New Zeland. We have a bad feed-factor of 1.75. We’re like Wagyu beef on a plate. This species likes be deep and nibble on the nets. It likes to jump high. It’s powerful.
The company is entirely integrated with its own hatcheries, grow-outs, primary and secondary processing, and its own smoker. When they hired Rosewarne in 2008, brand-building work started in earnest. Today, they have five brands: “Top grade, premium grade, value brand and then we have pet food,” he said.
Rosewarne seemed to enjoy references to Wagyu or Kobe beef, to which he kept returning.
“Wagyu beef is specially farmed for chefs. It’s the same here. It’s been especially farmed for 30 years to get exactly what the cooks are looking for. We want a premium for every kilo we produce. We sell to about a thousand restaurants. Many of them have Michelin Stars. You’ll find just 170 restaurants in New Zealand are branded “value”.
Gourmet restaurants in the U.S. are key to sales.
“New York is our most important city. Our focus is on master chefs. All of these chefs tweet or are on Instagram. When they win a prize, they send out thousands of tweets,” he said, before showing us a clip from a TV commercial.
“That’s how we’ve built up the segment,” Roswarne said.
When asked whether he thought Kings, as with Atlantics, would be challenged by land-based aquaculture, he was assertive: “I can guaranteed you that the day we produce salmon on land, people will protest about animal welfare, saying, ‘The fish haven’t seen the sea’, etcetera. This is green production. Land-based production is extremely costly.”