Q&A with Klaas Puul CEO Maiko van der Meer
Maiko van der Meer has been appointed general director and CEO of Dutch shrimp processor Klaas Puul following its sale to H2 Equity Partners last week. Van der Meer previously worked for Marine Harvest as managing director of consumer products for five years. Klaas Puul, headquartered in Volendam, the Netherlands, processes both small North Sea and larger tropical shrimp in plants in Morocco, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark. It has around 3,500 employees and had nearly EUR 200 million (USD 222.6 million) in sales last year. SeafoodSource interviewed van der Meer on Thursday, 1 September.
SeafoodSource: What changes are in store for Klaas Puul following the sale of the company?
Van der Meer: The changes will not be huge. The Mooijer family sold the business primarily because they had no successor within the family. H2 saw an opportunity and they have experience in the food industry – they also have a frozen vegetable and fruit company in their portfolio. They looked at investing in other food companies for number of years, and when they saw this opportunity, they took it. Seafood seems to be an attractive sector for private equity firms recently. They seem to be seeing to be lot of potential value – an opportunity to create value with the right management.
SeafoodSource: How much capital does H2 plan to invest in Klaas Puul’s operations and what is its investment timeline?
Van der Meer: H2 has an investment timeline of five to seven years, and it will not be building greenfield sites for EUR 20 to 30 million (USD 22 to 34 million). It’s going to do selective investments, particularly in our Volendam factory, where our chilled operation requires some investment to get more capacity and upgrade to meet international standards. But that will not be too expensive because the equipment here is already of a pretty high standard of hygiene and efficiency.
SeafoodSource: What advantage does Klaas Puul have in the European shrimp market? What differentiates you and what does Klaas Puul do best?
Van der Meer: Klaas Puul’s core business is North Sea shrimps, sold mainly chilled. That’s a business where you really need control throughout the supply chain, and fortunately, we have worked closely with fishermen and already have a very good operation in place. We have to continue to be very flexible, and work on maintaining our relationships with retailers, and nail down the right packaging for our products. But we are lucky that our core business is something only very few companies can do. It’s a very challenging business and Klaas Puul has been very good in developing that market.
SeafoodSource: Where do you see your greatest opportunities for growth?
Van der Meer: Our core business is in the Benelux, France and Germany. Our total portfolio of chilled shrimps, both wild-caught and farmed shrimps from throughout the world, we can expand outside our core business in the rest of Europe.
The second part of our shrimp business is frozen shrimp, a sector that’s a bit more competitive, with Morubel and some Asian competitors. Because it’s more competitive, we have to be sharper in our processing and purchasing. Despite that, we are not going to neglect the frozen sector. With my experience and a little bit of extra money, we can do better in frozen. But it’s not going to be the priority from a marketing standpoint – 80 percent of our focus will be on chilled.
SeafoodSource: How do you perceive your working relationship with H2 to function?
Van der Meer: They know how to run a business well, and they are not just going to give me the keys to the business and come back in five years to see how I’ve done. On the other hand, they will give me freedom to operate and execute my plan. They won’t have any silly reporting mechanisms if they are not vital to our success. In the last six months, I have worked with a lot of private equity firms, and I believe H2 is a shining example of a firm that does things right and takes the proper approach.
SeafoodSource: Speaking with your main competitors, Ristic and Morubel, they are seeking to more fully automate their peeling processes. Is that something you will look at, or do you prefer hand-peeling?
Van der Meer: Right now, 99 percent of our shrimp is hand-peeled. The human hand is more effective and efficient at peeling small North Sea shrimps than machines are, and by doing hand-peeled, you get more yield and better quality. We think there’s only a selective part of the market that can go to machine-peeled. Hand-peeled shrimp is preferred by consumers and results in cheaper and better-quality shrimp, year-round. Machine-peeling is a niche business, and I will admit it would be nice to have such technology, but it’s not going to be determining the future of the shrimp industry.
SeafoodSource: What other categories is Klaas Puul involved in besides shrimp? What percentage of your overall business does that represent?
Van der Meer: We have a fantastic fruits de mer product. Consumers love it and it is being sold very successfully, but that’s without any marketing push. Obviously such products could probably do better if we put in a bit of clever marketing, but that segment is just a cherry on the cake for me – it will never be the core of the business. But it’s a great door-opener and it gives our portfolio an extra edge, so we are not going to ignore it.
SeafoodSource: Will the Mooijer family remain involved in the business at all?
Van der Meer: Evert Mooijer, the former owner, has kept a financial stake in the company and will be an advisor to me. We are going to be in regular contact because obviously he knows everything about the company, so it makes sense to use that as we can. We respect each other enormously. This business is in a little village, and a lot of family members work in the company. They will will always be morally and emotionally involved, and we want to keep them in the loop on what’s happening with the company and they will have access to me.
SeafoodSource: Are you interested in growing the sales and variety of your value-added products, and if so, how will you do that?
Van der Meer: I believe consumers are more and more interested in convenience, especially in terms of preparation. We are going to do more products that are pre-cooked, cooked in sauce, microwavable, oven-cooked, things like that, to provide convenience for people who don’t want to be in their kitchen for 45 minutes anymore to cook an extensive meal. That’s just how it is these days.
We are going to work on developing more products both for at-home and out-of-home consumption. It’s nice that there are so many possibilities for shrimp – it’s such a versatile product, you can do a lot with it. We’re thinking about pasta dishes, Asian-style dishes, sushi – there are so many possibilities to push shrimps more into the marketplace.
To devise such creativity, it often can be clever to bring in chefs, so we will probably do that. We would like to look around and bring some fresh perspective into the company, but ultimately our people will be responsible for final development and production of the products.
SeafoodSource: What do you see as your greatest challenge moving forward?
Van der Meer: The trick will now be to put this all in place in a very rigorous manner and keep everyone on board with the plan. Promoting synergy is not rocket science but it does involve execution and that will be my main focus.