Regal Springs looking at opportunities in Mexico, Asia for “significant growth”
Achim Eichenlaub, the recently hired CEO of Regal Springs Tilapia, said the company sees great potential in expanding internationally, as well as in the United States.
Regal Springs grows tilapia in lakes in Indonesia, Honduras and Mexico without the use of chemicals, growth hormones or antibiotics. In August 2016, the company was purchased by Golden Springs Group, the parent company of Gold Coin Group, a feed company based in Singapore. Eichenlaub was hired as CEO soon after, replacing longtime CEO Rudy Lamprecht, who founded the company and built it a well-regarded brand.
Eichenlaub said his company is well-positioned due to its reputation for producing high-end tilapia, but that the current market for premium tilapia is strong but relatively small compared to its potential, Eichenlaub said.
“We think tilapia has a lot of growth opportunities. As a result, we are aiming for significant growth,” he said. “We want to make the company more global than it is today. On the back of our very large U.S. business, we are expanding into other geographies including Asia, Europe and Central America – particularly Mexico.”
Eichenlaub said while Regal Springs is sold in Costco and Walmart in Mexico, and “the volume of sales is good there,” it will soon launch its own brand in Mexico.
“Mexico is growing very fast and it has a younger population that we think we can win over,” he said. “Mexican consumers prefer Mexican fish over Chinese in terms of quality, and that gives us an advantage.”
That effort will go hand-in-hand will increasing production out of the company’s existing farms in Central America, Eichenlaub said.
“Right now, we are focusing on getting more volume out of our existing operations – in particular, our Mexican operation, which opened 35 years ago and which is, from a production point of view, still just half-full right now,” he said. “We still have a capacity and permits that allow us significant growth over next two to three years. Then we have to figure out where we get new licenses.”
Regal Springs is on firm financial footing, both thanks to its new corporate backing and because of the company’s reputation in the marketplace, he said.
“Our customers like our product because gives them insurance – they know 100 percent they’re going to get from us a good quality product. They know we always follow the right processes, that we have numerous certifications, and that high quality feeds all the way through to the finished product,” he said. “With that difference in quality, they know that they can charge higher price to the consumer, and that the consumer is willing to pay for that quality.”
Despite its solid base of operations, the company sees itself an important part of a broader effort to expand seafood consumption globally, and especially in the United States, which is one of the world’s largest markets but where Eichenlaub said he saw particular potential for increasing consumption.
“We want to grow seafood consumption overall, and we hope more retailers will sell better premium tilapia to make a point of difference in the market,” he said. “We think tilapia has a lot of growth opportunities, in particular because seafood consumption in the U.S. is still very low.”
As part of that effort, Eichenlaub said Regal Springs is exploring “where can tilapia play a further role” in new products, to get non-fish eaters to try the protein and to get occasional seafood buyers to eat it more frequently.
“Currently, the number-one priority of the company is finding spaces where can tilapia play a further role,” he said. “We are expanding on what the company stands for today, which is premium tilapia, and then premium products that tilapia can go into. By that I mean we are thinking about what role tilapia can play in different categories, especially value-added. Where tilapia can play in similar roles as other species in the natural arena, it can also easily play a role in higher-value segments.”
However, he said, “There obviously many types of fish in competition with each other, and we are still figuring out exactly where we can be most successful.”
That doesn’t mean straying away from Regal Spring’s core identity, Eichenlaub said.
“We absolutely want to stick to the principles the company was founded on. What Rudy [Lamprecht] did over the past 25 years has made the company successful,” he said. In some cases, such as with CSR, we even want to strengthen it, and that’s why we hired Peter [Hajipieris]. And along that line, we will pursue even more certifications, as we are not yet everywhere on the top notch, so if we have three stars, we want four, and if we have four, we want five.”
Hajipieris, the former corporate social responsibility and external affairs director at Nomad Foods Europe, joined Regal Springs in April as global advisor for CSR, sustainability and external affairs. In his own interview with SeafoodSource, he said branding will be a constant focus for him.
“What trying to do get consumers that there is good tilapia out there,” Hajipieris said.”Achim and I are very conversant on how to develop the brand story, and we are going to continue those efforts, as we share a joint passion about sharing our brand’s story.
Hajipieris said he joined Regal Springs because the company because it has linked its success with seafood sustainability. But without a fundamental commitment to growth, sustainability becomes less relevant, he said.
“Customers love that the company is committed to CSR, but fundamentally, consumers are always concerned about three things when they buy fish: texture, taste and price,” Hajipieris said. “Of all the years been in the business of selling fish, the companies that do best are the ones that get those dimensions right. And I think we’re doing that here at Regal Springs.”