Chris Maze guiding Pescanova USA along three-pronged strategy to growth
When Chris Maze saw an opportunity to reunite with Ignacio Gonzalez, his old boss from their days at Spanish food multinational Campofrio, he jumped.
Maze had served as president and CEO of Campofrio USA from 2000 to 2017, working under Gonzalez’s leadership when he was Campofrio’s general manager for Southern Europe and the U.S., from 2013 to 2016. In February 2016, Gonzalez left to become CEO of Nueva Pescanova, and Maze moved on to serve as CEO of East Coast Seafood from April 2017 to December 2018. He joined Miami, Florida-based Pescanova USA as president and CEO in January 2019.
“The number one reason I made the move is because of Ignacio Gonzalez,” Maze told SeafoodSource at the Global Seafood Market Conference in Orlando, Florida, U.S.A. in January. “He was the best boss I ever had. His vision, leadership, support was unparalleled. I learned so much from him, and we had a lot of success together. That was the big draw and was what led to the initial talks on me joining Pescanova.”
Created out of the bankruptcy of what is now known as “Old Pescanova,” Vigo, Spain-based Nueva Pescanova employs around 10,000 people and sells chilled and frozen seafood products in 80 countries on five continents. It is vertically integrated, operating a fleet of 70 vessels fishing in the Southern Hemisphere, 7,500 hectares of tilapia, turbot, and shrimp aquaculture farms, 17 processing facilities, and wholesale, product development, marketing, and distribution operations. Pescanova first entered the U.S. market in 1998 and has since grown to become one of the top 50 seafood commerce companies in the Americas, according to the company.
In 2018, Gonzalez told SeafoodSource his strategic plan for Nueva Pescanova centered around an aggressive push deeper into what it calls its “Big Six” markets, which include Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, and the United States. Nueva Pescanova’s ambitions for the United States focus on increasing sales to eventually reach USD 1 billion (EUR 911 million), primarily through expanding into retail.
Nearly two years into that strategy’s initiation, the company still sees the U.S. market as a strategic growth opportunity for it to leverage the company’s advantage when it comes to vertical integration, according to Maze.
“Absolutely, the goal is to make the U.S. a bigger market for us. In population and consumption, it’s one of largest markets we sell in. The vision shared by all of us is that, instead of being a trader here in the U.S., we will become a larger part of a vertically integrated company that brings benefits to consumers through healthy, sustainably sourced products that are convenient,” he said. “From the high-level view of a strategy, that’s really what we’re doing – getting into retail and foodservice channels that historically have been a small part of our business here. We’ve got different paths planned for each channel that we have spent last year preparing.”
The approach is three-pronged, targeted on growth in private-label production, value-added products sold at retail, and high-quality, ready-to-go products for foodservice, Maze said.
When it comes to private-label work, Maze said the company wants it to remain a significant part of Pescanova USA’s business, even if it means the Pescanova brand name won’t apply.
“Most major retailers offer bags of shrimp, mahi, and other fish. We want to do that even though we know it’s not going to be under our brand,” he said. “We’re open to doing that work for products that end up behind the glass. A lot of fish moves there and we want to be part of that.”
On the retail side, Pescanova USA has launched a “Value-added 2.0” campaign as part of its strategy to introduce more innovative value-added products. Its latest offering is Toss & Serve Shrimp, which includes a flavor puck that goes into the pan with the shrimp. Maze said a concerted effort was put into updating the packaging and working with chefs to design meals that are as simple to cook as they are tasty to eat. They come in three varieties: Salted Butter and Garlic Sauce, Chipotle Sea Salt Sauce, and Citrus Herb Sauce.
“With the flavor pucks, you toss it in a pan and it’s ready in five minutes. You can put it over pasta and it tastes phenomenal,” he said. “In our marketing, we’re focusing in on the health aspects of shrimp, as well as the fact that it’s really convenient and that we have three different flavors as options. And in general, those are the kind of things we’re marketing around: health, good flavor, and convenience – I think those three things are going to be our keys to success and innovation.”
The Toss & Serve Shrimp will be in 500 stores operated by three retailers by the end of the first financial quarter of 2020, Maze said, and he expects them to be in 1,000 stores by Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. in March.
On the foodservice end, convenience and quality are the two focus areas for Pescanova USA, Maze said, along with improving the company’s customer support and service.
“We’re not about flipping containers anymore. We want customers who want our products every week,” he said. “We’re very excited about this initiative and we’ve had a lot of success already this year.”
New offerings from Pescanova on the foodservice end include Chilean Sea Bass Portions and Cooked Octopus Tentacles.
“Octopus is getting to be a bigger part of what Americans are ordering in restaurants, as consumers – particularly younger consumers – become more adventurous in how they eat,” Maze said. “We’re seeing that its starting with appetizers – we’re seeing a lot more octopus in appetizers section of menu. So with our new octopus offering, instead of whole frozen block octopus, we’re now doing cooked tentacles. It’s less labor and less waste in the kitchen.”
For Maze, much of the work of enacting this growth strategy has to do with putting together a solid core team. In August 2019, Romina Polanco, formerly of Slade Gorton, joined Pescanova USA as its new director of procurement and demand planning, and the company hired Ryan Pieper, formerly of Pacific Seafood, as vice president of sales in September. This week, the company announced it has hired Shannon Whelan and Dane Wigand as national sales representatives. Whelan is coming from food safety technology company Hygiena, where she served as Northeast territory sales manager. She previously held sales leadership roles Sealord International and Best Cheese Corporation. Wigand has worked in sales and business development roles at Ocean Garden Products and Ocean Beauty Seafoods. Additionally, Maze praised Laura Garrido, a legacy senior leader who’s been with Pescanova for eight years developing new business opportunities. Garrido recently received additional responsibilities over leading quality and food safety initiatives.
“We’ve got a dream team, I am really excited working together with this team moving forward with new products,” Maze told SeafoodSource. “To me, it’s all about the team. You need a great team to go into those channels and properly secure the business. I spent a lot of this past year putting together that team, and the new additions as well the legacy folks give us the means we need to move forward with our strategy.”
Ultimately, Maze said, the opportunity to lead an organization under Gonzalez’s leadership and with the power of a vertically integrated seafood company was too great to pass up.
“When I was making my decision [to join Pescanova USA], I dug in a little bit, and I saw what fantastic infrastructure was there. Vertical integration is the company’s best asset. Only a few seafood companies in the world can claim to bring products from the boat all the way to the store. It gives us all the tools we need to be successful,” Maze said.
The broader culture of the company is a full commitment to improving the planet and the people who inhabit it, Maze said. He said he wanted to push those values to its U.S. operations.
“When I joined [the company], the first thing I found is how deep in our DNA that commitment to planet and people really are. I saw my job as simple: tell our story,” he said. “That story wasn’t being told in the U.S. We were really operating kind of as a trader, an importer. Whether it comes to social or environmental responsibility, the company puts its money where its mouth is.”
That commitment, combined with vertical integration, allows Nueva Pescanova to offer things like full traceability through the entire supply chain, and the commitment of significant financial resources to things like building solar power generation and funding schools in areas it operates, including several new schools in Latin America.
“I’m proud to be an employee and leader in this company for those reasons,” Maze said. “Nothing in seafood is easy, but at least I’m fortunate that everyone from the top down really wants to see these goals happen. It’s my job to bring those values and that commitment to our great U.S. team.”
Photo courtesy of Pescanova USA