France's seafood supply chain under scrutiny


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
August 29, 2010

Upstream seafood players in France must shed individualism and favor an industrial dimension to meet the demands of today's global seafood industry, according to a French distributor.

Weighing the country's traditional artisanal approach against the dominant industrialized landscape, Bertrand Desplat, managing director of Fipeche, a Brittany processor with EUR 50 million in annual turnover, attested that today's fishermen can't avoid the industrial element.

"We need to succeed in transforming a historically artisanal approach to an industrial vision because global competition does not permit the artisanal way," said Desplat at a recent conference in Paris.

For the past 20 years, little has changed for upstream fishing and seafood players in France. The market is, according to observers, represented by volumes that are landed at a multitude of geographical points and disseminated along the coast. These same products are then sold via public auctions that favor volumes.

"Facing this picture, we have a distribution network that is super organized, structured and consolidated for 20 years," said Desplat.

Because this distribution network fails to see a French offer to meet its demands — guaranteed volumes, regularity, and competitive pricing — they ink contracts on the other side of the English Channel or the Atlantic, he explained.

Faced with such pressing competition, France has started to take a far closer look at its seafood supply chain. A key factor in the debate is how added-value can be calibrated into the chain via deeper cooperation between cross-industry stakeholders.

"There's no individual performance without a collective organization," said Desplat.

Other countries, he said, "have understood this for a long time. Imagine Norway without salmon production?"

Desplat said Fipeche has drawn up collective solutions that make the link through a union of producer organizations (OP) between the producer and the first buyer or his/her primary processor. And by creating the link, Fipeche claims to "guarantee volume, price and the origin of the products."

The OP is required to gather tightly for the products to reach the market. From that point, "an industrial outfit like ours" can put in place the necessary organizational flow to ensure the consumer receives the product in the "most efficient manner," said Desplat.

The firm baptized the model with scallops and the first association between producers and private industry. And while a market glut of scallops led to some dumping last year, Desplat is quick to point out that this was not repeated with its producers.

"For the Breton model in the bay of St. Brieuc, which has existed since 1995, 100 percent of their volumes have been purchased. The organization that was put in place allows us to be 100 percent autonomous in relation to exterior finance," explained Desplat.

And while not a "panacea," the framework enabled producers to attain a farm gate price of EUR 2.

"If we had had to follow the community rules, today we would be at EUR 1.70," concluded Desplat.

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