Richard Stavis discusses IMV investment and his new role at Stavis Seafoods
Richard Stavis led Stavis Seafoods as the company’s CEO until 16 January, when, following an investment from Dutch seafood firm IMV, he was replaced by Stavis Seafoods President Chuck Marble. He discussed the move, and his new role as chief sustainability officer and director of purchasing for Stavis Seafoods, in an interview with SeafoodSource on 17 January.
SeafoodSource: Can you give some background about what led to the deal Stavis Seafoods made with IMV?
Stavis: As I’ve mentioned in previous public communications, over the past one or two years, the family decided on going down the path of vertical integration. If you look at everything I’ve said about the company over the last five years, you’ll see that what I’ve been saying consistently is we have to scale up and get more vertically integrated because our customers are doing it. More restaurants and foodservice companies are rolling up into larger chains and becoming national concerns. Independents are going away – they’re all becoming national chains. And when your customers are that large scale, in order to be a good partner for them, you also need to be able to scale to their size. Do you think Sysco wants to have 40 different vendors they have to work with? I can’t speak for them, but I assume if they could choose, they would want one or two partners who can guarantee the consistency, quality, and availability of the products they’re buying.
SeafoodSource: Why did Stavis choose IMV over other potential suitors?
Stavis: Like Stavis Seafoods, IMV is a family-owned, privately held company, and they have a value system that is similar to ours. One other thing that really excited me in terms of the strategic partnership is that it will help us expand our offerings. But this arrangement allows me to get actual eyes to the decks of ships where the seafood is being harvested…Everything I’ve done to date in terms of sustainability has to do with certifications, fishery improvement projects, data-logging, block-chain reporting, but ultimately, on none of this stuff has my eye been directly on the product. Now, when I’m speaking about social sustainability, I can have total confidence that I’m being a clear channel, that what I’m communicating is truly happening. It’s hard for a company to have that purity of communication, and I’m very excited that I’ll be able to do that.
SeafoodSource: Can you describe what went into the decision that was made for you to step into a different role with the company?
Stavis: This was a collectively arrived-upon decision, but ultimately it was my decision. The path that I’ve taken over the past three years, from serving on the advisory board for [the] SeaWeb [Seafood Summit], the work that I did at Oceans [Conference] at the [United Nations] – everything that I’ve done has all been consistent with what the Stavis family decided five years ago, which is that it’s important that we are a part of the change we’d like to see in the broader world. My job will be to help the industry find its path as we move towards a more responsibly-based sourcing approach.
SeafoodSource: Were the new investors from IMV part of that decision, and do they back the vision that your family has for the company and the industry?
Stavis: They’ve definitely been following the progression of the company over the last three years, and they agree on us focusing on two things – going as vertical as we can and increasing our outreach into the market. The new investors were definitely at the table, but what they said is ‘Look, we understand who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. How can we help you?’ In essence, they understand our vision here, and they also understand how these efforts are going to help us achieve it. Frankly, I was thrilled they’re as supportive as they are with my getting out there and trying to lead the industry in a positive direction – and I’m happy I’ve got the ability to do that.
SeafoodSource: So sustainability is seen by IMV as a core part of Stavis’ identify and branding moving forward?
Stavis: We all really take value seriously, and when you talk about taking products fresh from the ocean, that’s the highest value you can achieve. Sustainability is an integral part of what’s important to being successful in seafood. The goal isn’t to move me out of the center, it’s to move Stavis toward the center. Sustainability is not a tangential subject; it is the core subject when it comes to seafood. It is definitely where the seafood industry is moving to as a whole.
SeafoodSource: What do you think of Chuck Marble? Is he the right person to lead the company moving forward?
Stavis: I personally selected him and helped hire him over a year ago because I thought he would be important part of where were going as a company. Chuck has a skillset no one at Stavis has ever had before in that he innately understands what the end-user customer wants and he understands how to communicate it in a way they’ll hear and they’ll see. He was behind the popularity of the Puffins brand of cereal [with Weetabix], behind the rise in natural and organics [at Elevation Brands], and did amazing work at Ian’s [Natural Foods]. Nothing has changed since yesterday – I still think he’s the guy to take us to where we want to go. He understands where the market is going. He gets it.
SeafoodSource: Any final thoughts about the IMV deal or the future of Stavis Seafoods?
Stavis: To be honest, these deals are the sort of thing that can easily be hyped or overhyped . The truth of matter is that we’re learning about each other, and we’ll take time to know each other. Eventually, we’ll get more products to market. I’d love to say this deal will give us transformative advancements in our capabilities tomorrow, but that’s not reality. I just wanted to let people know about what was going on, and what are goals are moving forward. We want people to get to know us based on our achievements, not on our hype. I guess what I’m saying is, keep an eye on us.