A partnership approach: how Stolt Sea Farm is building its business around customers

This article is from Stolten – December 2022

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After the unprecedented disruption caused by Covid-19, the global seafood industry was hoping the market would stabilise once lockdowns were lifted and activity began to increase.

However, 2022 has seen further market volatility driven by a combination of high oil prices, higher fishing quotas, and import duties relating to Russian sanctions. This uncertainty creates a headache for Stolt Sea Farm’s (SSF) two core customer groups: hospitality businesses and retailers.

For the former, customer demand for premium fish remains high but the sector faces continued labour pressures resulting from the pandemic. For retailers, consumers want more options when it comes to high-quality fish without the hassle of having to prepare fresh produce themselves. Adapting to these changing needs requires strong partnerships that are flexible and reactive while still guaranteeing a reliable supply of sustainable, high-quality seafood. That is exactly what SSF is committed to maintaining for its customers.

Shifting focus from production to partnerships

The business has evolved from a production-centric model to an even more customer-centric one by diversifying its products, markets and channels and using data-led insights to strengthen existing relationships and pave the way for new ones. It’s a strategy that is not only continuing to deliver its fresh produce, but also a selection of new lines, including the recent launch of its frozen turbot range under its consumer brand, ProdemarTM.

Initially, SSF’s decision to diversify into frozen products was in response to the global pandemic. But its success during this period, has created a long-term opportunity to generate additional value for the business, provide a more comprehensive range of products to its retail and hospitality customers and ensure end consumers continue to have access to incredible, sustainably produced seafood.

“While 90% of our sales are still fresh fish, offering frozen products means we can agree shipment sizes and prices in advance throughout the year,” says Alberto Briones, International Sales Manager within Stolt Sea Farm’s Frozen Division (pictured). “This is a big part of building stronger, long-term partnerships with both retail and hospitality customers.”

Jordi Trias, President at Stolt Sea Farm, agrees that working in partnership with customers gives SSF more insight into demand at each purchasing stage. “Listening to our customers is a very important part of diversification. We are not a company that simply supplies and follows up on orders, we believe it is important to be a company that sits down with our customers to develop business together.”

Reacting quickly to market uncertainty

Unpredictable markets make adaptability essential for businesses, and SSF is no exception. “It was a real challenge during Covid,” says Briones. “Our fish was ready to harvest, but then every country, every restaurant, every hotel, closed its doors. With large quantities of unsold, high-quality stock needing to be used, we had to react quickly.”

SSF opted to freeze large quantities of fish. “We ended up having tonnes of frozen turbot stocked, and we had no previous experience selling this product,” says Briones. The logistical challenges faced by the team were significant, especially around developing export processes to support this new, unexpected product range. Ultimately, their agility and ability to learn on the go have made the move into frozen stock a success.

“When we started shipping our frozen fish, there was a lack of internal knowledge of how to go about it,” says Briones. “But, in just 18 months, we have learned together and created an efficient team that is now sending large quantities of frozen produce to more than 30 countries across the world, and customers are extremely happy.”  

"We believe it is important to be a company that sits down with our customers to develop business together.” Jordi Trias, President, Stolt Sea Farm

Even when the markets are settled, customer needs are rarely static; the way people buy and eat fish continues to change and differs by market. Diversification allows SSF to capitalise on these shifting market demands and offer its customers more choice and convenience. And these benefits are being passed all the way down the purchasing ladder.

“Retail end consumers are now asking for a product that is practically ready to eat, or at least more convenient to cook, so that is what we are providing to them,” says Briones. “Similarly, restaurants now have the option to use our frozen line alongside or instead of our fresh produce without compromising on quality or flavour.”

Using data to build better partnerships

Another key pillar of SSF’s transformational strategy is making better use of market and customer data. This not only makes the business more responsive to market changes but also forms the foundation of stronger relationships with customers. Plus, this increased level of insight will help SSF on its path towards a more sustainable future.

“Data is the gold or the oil of the twenty-first century,” says Alberto Vidal Arán, Global Planning and Service Manager at Stolt Sea Farm. “Facing the issue of demand versus sales is made easier the more data we have. By examining our historical production and sales data, we can achieve better demand forecasting – and this is something we are working to advance even further in 2023.”

More effective use of data means that operational efficiency and sustainability can go hand in hand. For example, better forecasting allows SSF to only breed as much stock as it needs. Doing so improves efficiencies and optimises profit margins while ensuring customers always get the freshest produce.

Boosting its data capabilities also means SSF is getting to know its customers even better and can anticipate their needs to react in a more agile way. This ensures it always delivers market-leading service as well as market-leading products. For example, when market instability saw seafood factories in Poland and the Netherlands unable to obtain enough high-quality stock, SSF was able to help them pivot into new varieties of fish.

“These new customers were able to turn to our turbot as an alternative,” says Briones. “They had the facilities, the people and the knowledge, all they needed was the product – and we were able to provide it fast.”

A new chapter

Two years ago, mid-pandemic, SSF was sitting on a large amount of unsold stock with most of its customers temporarily out of action. Today, it is successfully delivering a broader range of products to a more diverse customer base. In doing so, both the company and its customers are reaping the benefits – and will continue to do so over the long term.

“We are now positioning ourselves as a company that not only meets the demand of today, but also anticipates the demand of tomorrow,” says Trias. “Providing a fantastic product with the best level of service and reliability is the basis of who we are and what we do at SSF. And our evolution to a more customer-centric, data-driven business is helping us achieve our purpose to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy our products for years to come.”

SSF is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and, as the company begins the next exciting chapter of its rich history, it will continue to evolve with its customers. And the future looks bright. Learn more about Stolt Sea Farm’s customer offering.

A footnote from the frontline 

Stolt Sea Farm’s regional sales and customer relationship managers explain what delivering customer excellence means to them in their daily roles.  

  • "Customer excellence is going beyond being a simple supplier to being a real partner. This is the way we are building our relationships with our customers, which is creating real, long-term business partnerships." Stefano Acquati, Area Manager – Southern Europe
  • "Achieving customer excellence requires us to keep an open mind when listening to and taking into account their needs. In doing so, we provide our customers with the reliable, rapid and effective services and solutions they expect from us." Vanessa Figueiredo, Area Manager – Western Europe and AMEA
  • “Customer excellence is understanding customers' needs and the value they place on the products and services they purchase from us, listening to and acting on their feedback and making continuous improvements to achieve mutual success.” Mert Kececi, Area Manager – Northern Europe

This article is from

Stolten – December 2022

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