Philippines-based Fisherfarms sees value-adding as its future

Philippines-based Fisherfarms’s CEO Imelda J. Madarang said value added products will be key to the company’s success in markets both domestic and abroad. 

A Seafood Excellence Award 2018 finalist, Fisherfarm’s line of milkfish products have also garnered multiple awards for taste. The company’s line of sausages, which use milkfish instead of chicken or pork, represent the company's spin on creating healthy, value-added products that stand out in the marketplace. 

“We were looking at the trends; We wanted to go beyond the commodity, we wanted to go into the value-added,” Madarang told SeafoodSource during the 2018 Seafood Expo Asia in Hong Kong. “So then we thought of making sausages, because when we looked around at the market, there is hardly anything [like it].”

The company’s line of fish sausages come in many flavors – such as Italian, kielbasa, frankfurter, German, Hungarian, and chipotle. Getting the taste of the fish sausages to resemble their terrestrial counterparts was a difficult task, but key to the products' success, Madarang said.

“We were aware of the difficulty, the taste and the smell that we had to overcome," she said.

The company’s primary species, milkfish, was perfect for the job, according to Madarang. Relatively mild in flavor, without flaking issues some other species have, the sausage products end up being almost indistinguishable from pork, chicken, or beef sausages, she said.

The obstacle Fisherfarms is facing, however, is getting customers over the initial stigma of a fish-based sausage.

“Until now, we’re struggling to hurdle the old paradigm of people and fish,” she said. “We are convinced that the only way to be able to hurdle this barrier is to get them to taste it. When they do they say ‘Oh my god, are you sure this is fish?’”

The new products are directly targeted at the Philippines' large and growing populations of millennials, many of whom are health-conscious, Madarang said. Getting over the initial hurdle of convincing people to try it has been difficult, but she said she’s confident that as more people learn about the health benefits and flavor of the products, the company’s push into value-added products will pay off. 

“We wanted to make it really for the target sector that we want, which is the health buffs,” she said. 

It helps that while milkfish is little-known outside of the island nations of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, in The Philippines, it’s known unofficially as “the national fish.” Fisherfarms is one of only a few companies in the world that run large-scale commercial milkfish farming operations. It has 500 to 600 employees engaged in cage-farming the reef fish, which takes five to 10 months to reach harvesting size at its aquaculture operations in Pangasinan in the northern Philippines.

The versatility of milkfish gives Fisherfarms practically unlimited opportunties to expand its value-added porfolio of products, Madarang previously told SeafoodSource at the 2017 Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium.

“It’s amazing what we have done with one species. We now have a wide range of products created to suit a variety of tastes,” Madarang said. “We invested a lot to create strong research and development capabilities, and we have also relied on international consultants to help us. We are now very strong in food service because of all the effort we have put into our value added and product customization.”

Slightly more than a year later, now that Fisherfarms has worked out the kinks of producing value-added products with milkfish, and with a marketing plan in place, Madarang said her firm has grand ambitions for growth, starting with getting the word out at Seafood Expo Asia.

“We feel there are a lot of opportunities and benefits that we can build on," she said in Hong Kong.


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