Ocean Garden CEO Celso Lopez: Farmed shrimp a great value
Farmed shrimp presents a significant value for grocery and foodservice buyers, as its price has remained relatively steady even during record grocery inflation, Ocean Garden President and CEO Celso Lopez told SeafoodSource.
“The drop in the farm-raised prices has stopped and has built a bottom and we expect it to be steady for the near future. Thus, we continue to see a great opportunity in farm-raised shrimp because it is a great protein with low inflation as compared to other proteins,” Ocean Garden President and CEO Celso Lopez said.
Compared to most other species, farmed shrimp has not had the same price hikes as crab, scallops, lobster, and other species.
“There is a huge opportunity for shrimp. One of the biggest pushes of volume is from Ecuador; That is what is bringing the prices down somewhat,” Lopez said.
The San Diego, California, U.S.A.-based importer and exporter, celebrating its 65th anniversary in business this year, has been a major importer of wild and farmed Mexican shrimp for years, focusing on sustainable and traceable products. It has secured certifications including Best Aquaculture Practices and the Federal Committee for Protection from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) at its processing facilities and is a founding member of the Mexican Shrimp Council.
"The secret to our success is that we have always sought the best interest of our producers and have striven to lead the Mexican industry to achieve higher standards as we promote the unequivocal qualities of Mexican shrimp,” Lopez said.
The company has expanded capacity in Mexico to produce value-added shrimp products “to better serve the retail and foodservice channels in the U.S., Mexico, and Asia markets,” and Ocean Garden plans to further enhance its value-added shrimp offerings later this year by offering frozen marinated shrimp, Lopez said.
Value-added shrimp is particularly relevant as “some retailers are focusing on nearshoring their supply chains in a post-pandemic economy,” he said.
While its core business will continue to be Mexican shrimp, Ocean Garden is evolving into a company that supplies several varieties of seafood, from countries beyond Mexico. It has a “strong relationship” with Norway-based Storm Seafood has begun to sell Norwegian salmon exclusively, Lopez said.
“Beyond that, we are doing some finfish, tuna, and swordfish, and looking to diversify into more things such as mahi,” Lopez said.
Ocean Garden is also interested in buying additional crab – snow, king, or “any frozen high-quality product that would go well with what we sell” – Lopez said.
“We are at the premium level only in the categories we service,” he said.
However, crab is currently “almost impossible” to get due to price increases and the Russia-Ukraine war, Lopez noted.
Although the company was “very focused” on foodservice prior to the pandemic, it now services foodservice distributors, foodservice operators, and the retail channel, which will likely make up 50 percent of its business in the next two years.
“Retail is the growing category – club stores, supermarkets, and more specialty retailers and ethnic markets,” Lopez said.
The foodservice channel is also booming, Lopez said.
“All those restaurants are packed, and with the value of shrimp there is going to be more [business],” Lopez said.
Ocean Garden was formed in 1957, when a small group of Mexican shrimp-boat owners came together to market their harvest to North America.
“That humble association has since evolved into one of the largest seafood importer companies in the nation,” Ocean Garden said.
Ocean Garden was originally owned by the Mexican government, and its focus was just on wild Mexican shrimp for foodservice. When the company privatized 15 years ago, it focused on both farm-raised and wild shrimp from Mexico.
“Back in the day – when shrimp came only from Mexico and the U.S. – we were probably one of the biggest seafood companies,” Lopez said.
For the past six years or so, Ocean Garden has “been evolving towards a company that does all origins of seafood,” Lopez said.
"The secret to our success is that we have always sought the best interest of our producers and have striven to lead the Mexican industry to achieve higher standards as we promote the unequivocal qualities of Mexican shrimp", Lopez said.
Photo courtesy of Ocean Garden