Sealaska consummates vision to enter Northern European market with purchase of New England Seafood

Published on
November 2, 2020

Juneau, Alaska-based Sealaska has purchased a majority stake in New England Seafood International (NESI), a supplier of fresh and frozen premium seafood based in Chessington, Surrey, United Kingdom.

Terms of the deal, announced Friday, 30 October, were not revealed publicly. NESI Founder Fred Stroyan continue to serve a role with the organization as a minority owner and member of the company’s board of directors, and most of the company’s leadership team, including NESI CEO Dan Aherne will continue in their roles, Sealaska Chief Operating Officer Terry Downes told SeafoodSource.

“We have been looking for a company that is as product- and marketing-driven [as NESI] for a long time. There are not many companies that are terrific marketers in the seafood industry, but this is one," Downes said. "Their people are well-trained and – with early career experience in Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Coke, etcetera. NESI has recruited those kinds of people after they’ve been working in fast-moving consumer goods for 10 years or so, so they really understand product marketing, categories, and the needs of retailers. They also have a passion for seafood.”

Sealaska, an Alaska Native regional corporation owned by more than 23,000 shareholders, is the owner of Orca Bay Seafoods and Odyssey Foods, which merged in 2017. Downes said connections between Orca Bay and NESI facilitated the advancement of acquisition talks, which he said began around six month ago.

“NESI had been working with Orca Bay for about 20 years and we knew they had a similar philosophy about sourcing and sustainability – both companies prioritize sourcing the highest-quality seafood, and they have been sharing intelligence on resources for some time,” he said. “The overlap is one of values. I know it sounds cheesy, but that’s what it is. The organizations are run the same way, focusing on utility and getting more people to eat fish. We know that 80 to 90 percent of people know fish is healthy for them to eat, but those that avoid it are doing so in many cases based off an emotional response to a previous bad experience. NESI prepares seafood that people actually want to eat, and that’s something that both companies have a real focus on. In fact, it’s their reason for existence. I think we see the world exactly the same way.”

Downes said Sealaska had no plans to undertake any significant overhaul of NESI.

“We don’t have a mindset that would drive us to replace management or cut costs. Our practice is to encourage companies we acquire to continue to run independently, as they have been,” he said. “A benefit of us not being private equity or publicly owned is that we can take our time and find ways to work together that make sense, rather than focusing on immediately improving short-term profitability. We’re not going to squish the companies in together or change what people are good at. We’re not like that. We’re going to take our time so that the benefit of a common ownership structure is realized naturally. We’re going to run the companies side-by-side and give each the benefit of working with the other on their own terms.”

New England Seafood has very strong brands, and they will remain intact and independent moving forward, according to Downes. NESI is an importer, processor, and supplier to the U.K. and Northern European markets, and operates its Joii foodservice division with a focus on sushi and healthy-eating segments, and its Leap and Fish Said Fred are consumer-facing and sold at retail.

The companies similar approach to conservation and sustainability – their “shared, long-standing commitments to fostering a thriving planet” – was also a major factor in bringing them together, Downes said.

“The alliance provides a unique platform from which to influence change and impact the factors that matter most to the long-term health of the industry and Earth’s oceans,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges facing humanity is how to feed, water, educate and house a growing population on a finite planet. Enormous social, environmental, and economic value is possible when strong, like-minded organizations join forces across the world to make a bigger difference. Solving our most pressing problems requires working together with a global mindset.”

In a press release, NESI CEO Dan Aherne said his company’s values and deep connection to Alaska strongly aligned with those of Sealaska.

“Whilst Southeast Alaska and London could not be farther apart in geography and way of life, Sealaska and NESI are natural partners connected at the source, via product categories and by values and approach,” Aherne said. “Both businesses share a clear vision around inspiring consumers to enjoy more seafood. Both take a long-term, global view to enhancing lives and promoting a thriving planet.”

The acquisition will give both Sealaska and NESI increased access to resources, broader product and category capabilities, and deeper market access, according to Aherne.

“NESI grew from my passion for bringing the world’s best seafood to the U.K.,” Stroyan said. “This alliance solidifies my vision for a globally connected seafood enterprise that is committed to trusting relationships, quality products and ocean health. I’m proud of this legacy and thrilled about what we can accomplish together.”

Downes told SeafoodSource the NESI acquisition represents a new chapter for Sealaska, as it expands its reach more formally out of North America.

“Sealaska has had no operations in Europe to date, so we’re entering a different country,” he said.  “Europe, and Northern Europe in particular, is an area we’ve really had an eye on for a while. The markets and business culture in Northern Europe and the United States are really quite similar, but we think there’s a lot to be learned there that we can bring back to the U.S. in terms of product development, how markets are developing, what products work, how consumer preferences are evolving. And the European markets tend to be more demanding in terms of food safety requirements and other regulatory requirements, so it’s great to be in a place that’s often a little ahead so we can take those learnings to the U.S. market before they’re required – we think that will give us an advantage.”

NESI will also benefit from Sealaska’s ownership thanks to the resources the larger organization can provide, according to Downes.

“NESI’s day-to-day existence will not see a lot of change. It’s just now they’ll be part of a bigger, like-minded organization with even more resources,” he said. “We want to run NESI the way they’ve been doing it. We believe they’ll benefit from having a bigger owner and a bigger footprint around the world, rather than operating as a standalone company.”

Photo courtesy of New England Seafood International

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