Boston buzz: SENA overcome by M&A tidal wave

‘Everything everywhere all at once’ is not just the name of the movie that won best picture recently. It’s also an accurate description of last week’s Boston seafood show

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles summarizing the recent Seafood Expo North America, otherwise known as the Boston seafood show. Tom Seaman, Louis Harkell, Matilde Mereghetti, NickSambides and Matthew Craze contributed reporting to this article.

“Everything everywhere all at once” is not just the name of the movie that won best picture recently at the 2022 Academy Awards. It’s also an accurate description of last week’s Boston seafood show, especially the incredible flurry of mergers and acquisition (M&A) activity.

No less than six major deals got announced during, just before or after the three-day event, March 12-14. Fortune International confirmed that it has agreed to acquire Boston Sword & Tuna (BST), for example, adding close to $300 million in sales to the Chicago, Illinois-based seafood import, processing and wholesale giant, taking it to over $ 1 billion in annual revenue.

Birgir Brynjolfsson, a partner at Antarctica Advisors, a Miami, Florida-based M&A consulting firm that represented BST in its sale process, counts several reasons for the M&A flood in and around the Boston seafood show.

“Several transactions were postponed in the second half of 2022 and, since the start of 2023, M&A activity has been picking up considerably,” he toldUndercurrent News in a recent email exchange.

“The Boston show this year was the first show since 2019 where people could prepare well in advance for the show, and the reason you had so many announcements come out this year is likely because people involved wanted to be able to share the news with their customers and suppliers in person,” he added.

The number of deals around Boston was “unusual”, Brynjolfssonacknowledged. He said that “despite higher financing costs and price volatility”, there is a need for both consolidation and succession in the seafood industry.

“There is also the belief that taxes in the US may increase in the near future,” he said. “Tax increases are bad for business owners that want to sell because they can both negatively impact valuations and leave the seller with lower after-tax proceeds. Many business owners are therefore considering accelerating their plans to sell before the window closes.”

China returned in force

The 41st edition of the Boston seafood show, more properly known asSeafood Expo North America (SENA), is over, but the six reportersUndercurrent sent to full-court press the event are still digesting what they heard and looking to provide even more coverage in coming days. This series of articles hopefully will give you a good sense of the most important things our team heard.

DiversifiedCommunications, thePortland, Maine-based company that organizes the three-day event every year, reported having 1,141 exhibitors from 49 countries between both SENAand Seafood ProcessingNorth America, a conference that it runs in conjunction with the main event at the Boston Convention Center. This year the overall exhibit space was expanded to 237,665 square feet, 31% more than in 2022.

The two events included new exhibitors from a multitude of countries, including Bahrain, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Poland and Tunisia.

One of the biggest showings in Boston came from China, which sent 96 exhibitors to the event this year after not showing up last year due heavily to COVID-related travel restrictions. Of course, it was nowhere close to the 527 exhibitors in Boston from the US, though it was close to the 98 that came from Canada.

The 2019 edition of the Boston seafood show remains the largest in the event’s four-decade history, having included 1,359 exhibitors overall. Several attendees told Undercurrent that this year’s show was among the biggest and most active they’ve ever experienced. Recall that the 2020 and 2021 expos were canceled due to pandemic concerns, and the 2022 show was considerably tamer, with only about 830 exhibitors, as reported by Undercurrent at the time.

Darrell Roche, senior vice president at Whitecap International SeafoodExporters, a Saint John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador-based distributor of Canadian seafood, said his booth at the 2023 show was the busiest its been in its 20 years of presence at the event.

“There was a big turnout due to the void left for customers and suppliers during COVID,” he toldUndercurrent. “Given inflation and the tougher markets in certain species, the Boston seafood show[was] the perfect venue for all stakeholders to be in one place together.”

Steve Harmell, the owner of Green Zone Seafood, a wholesaler based in Pembroke Pines, Florida, said he’s been going to the Boston show for four decades, and the crowd at the 2023 event was among the largest he’s ever seen there.

Several attendees have told Undercurrent in the past that Boston is where prospective seafood sales contacts are made before deals are closed during Seafood Expo Global, an even bigger event in Barcelona, Spain, April 25-27, this year. But Harmell disagreed, saying Boston often serves as the finish line in sales, and he’s had many contracts signed there.

Also, it’s a great place for companies to showcase new products, he said.

“The importance of this show is, without a doubt, to see and be with the folks that you’ve come to know over the years and share thoughts, ideas, successes, failures, and meet new people that you can do business with going forward,” he said. “I’ve seen companies grow the size of their exhibits to attract more attention, and I’ve seen new products shown that have gone on to be stable items in retail and food service.”

Succession planning a common trend

The M&A deals announced in and around Boston represented a wide variety of transaction types, from wholesalers looking to gain more regional territory to processors adding species to their product mixes. But Brynjolfsson noticed one thing that many of the deals had in common.

“Succession planning seems to be the common trend in most transactions announced recently and we expect to see that trend continue,” he told Undercurrent, adding a prediction for the future: “Cross-border transaction activity slowed down during the pandemic, so it would not be a surprise if we start seeing more cross-border transactions in 2023.”

In fact, what happened in Boston could be just the tip of an M&Aiceberg due to a worsening economic environment and rising borrowing costs, suggested Jason Brantley, senior vice president at Bank of America, and John Doucette, executive vice president and head of commercial banking at M&T Bank, during a presentation mid-March 14 at the Boston show, as reported by Undercurrent.

Many family-owned companies have a leadership continuity problem because of second and third-generation owners who are either ill-equipped or don’t want to run a seafood company, Doucette said. Some have had assets up for sale for several years but have held out for attractive valuations; they may have missed the window as worsening conditions force sales.

“Deals that were available a few years ago are some of the same deals that are out there now, but the rising rate environment is going to force some of the companies to sell, or they are going to have to consider bringing in partners,” Brantley said. “There is a valuation gap.”

A tick-tock recap of the deals

The torrent of M&A activity happened so fast last week that it was hard to keep up. It actually started on March 11 — the day before the Boston seafood show — when Carson, California-based SouthwindFoods, an importer and processor, confirmed that it had inked a deal to acquire Caito Fisheries, a processor with four locations on the sameWest Coast US state, as reported by Undercurrent.

Southwind president Sam Galletti told Undercurrent that it was his plan to double or even triple Caito’s output, providing it with, among other things, stronger financing to buy more of its key species, including Dungeness crab, salmon, black cod, halibut and rockfish, in addition to Dover and Petrale sole.

In addition to announcing the deal, Southwind, which trades as GreatAmerican Seafood Import Co., revealed plans to build a 40,000-square-foot processing, storage and distribution facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a 60,000sf cold storage facility in Vernon, California.

A second deal got announced in Boston the next day, on March 12, when Peter PanSeafood, a processor based in the US state of Alaska, revealed that it signed a letter of intent for an asset purchase ofTrapper’s Creek Smoking Co., a smoked salmon producer. The deal includes a smokehouse facility in Anchorage, Alaska, and its brands: Copper River Smoking Company, Alaska’s Best, Trapper’s Creek and Eat Like a Grizzly.

Peter Pan’s turnover has increased by a multiple of about three to nearly $400m since Rodger May and two US investment firms acquired the company from Japan’s Maruha Nichiro, the largest seafood company in the world, in early 2021, May told Undercurrent in Boston.

Peter Pan canceled its booth for SENA 2022 as concerns grew around the omicron COVID-19 strain. So, this year was the first time the company had a booth as a standalone entity.

“It’s been a coming out party for the new Peter Pan. I’ve been flat out all day, than having two dinners each night,” May said, adding that the response has been “amazing”.

On March 13, $1bn-turnover Ecuadorian shrimp supplier Omarsakept the M&A partygoing by announcing that it had snapped up Altrix de Panama, a plant in Aguasdulcesthat the acquiring company said it plans to upgrade to “Ecuadorian standard”. That includes installing equipment to produce individual quick frozen (IQF)head-on shrimp and peeled IQF shrimp.

Omarsa also plans to expand its vannamei shrimp farming operations in Panama, having acquired 1,200 hectares a few years earlier.

Also, on March 13, Sealaska, an Alaska-native corporation and the US parent of UK-based processor New England Seafood International(NESI), announced that it has grabbed a majority stake in Normarine, a Norwegian cod and haddock supplier. The deal gives NESI closer access to Norwegian whitefish raw material than it already has with Iceland.

The mother of all M&A deals in relation to Boston, of course, was the one announced by private equity-backed Fortune on March 13. That was the acquisition of BST, the prospects for which were first reported by Undercurrent on Feb. 8. The deal is expected to close in the next 60 days, based on a press release from Fortune.

sale in food service and retail. The company also has a salmon burger program, according to its website.

Then, on March 14, $2.5bn-turnover Canadian seafood giant Cookeannounced another blockbuster, revealing that it had entered into a”binding purchase agreement” to acquire Slade Gorton & Co., a prominent US processor based in Waltham, Massachusetts, close to Boston, as reported by Undercurrent.

The M&A news kept coming after the Boston seafood show was over, too, on March 16, when the Madrid, Spain-based news service ElConfidencial reported that acquisitive US-based seafood conglomerate Red Chamber Group had joined Cooke in entering negotiations to acquire a majority stake in Spain’s Nueva Pescanova from ABANCACorporacion Bancaria, the lender that owns a 97% stake in the company. The bank has reportedly offered both companies a flexible financing structure that allows them to plan a complete takeover of the fishing and aquaculture giant.

Red Chamber, Zhenye grew organically, too

Of course, not all of the recent expansion in seafood has been by acquisition. Red Chamber corporate communications manager Valentina Bragagnolo also revealed at the Boston show that her company has commissioned two new fishing vessels to grow its shrimp volumes in Argentina.

Another company looking to expand organically is Chinese tilapia processor Hainan Qinf, which told Undercurrent in Boston that it expects to complete a new CNY 500m ($72.4m) factory by 2025. The plant, which will process up to 500 metric tons of tilapia daily, will replace Qinfu’s existing factory near Wenchang, which processes and exports mainly tilapia fillets for North America and Europe.

The facility will produce more value-added convenience products, like pickled tilapia, grilled tilapia and tilapia bites, mainly for the Chinese domestic market, the company toldUndercurrent.

Also, Zhenye Aquatic, a Chinese processor of farmed whitefish species, told Undercurrent that it’s installing at least two new production lines this year at its facility in Guangdong to produce value-added products for China’s domestic market and export sales in Asia.

Jimmy Chan, deputy general manager of the company, said Zhenyewill add at least two and possibly even four processing lines this year to its existing eight lines. The lines will process locally farmed tilapia, barramundi, Japanese seabass, red drum and catfish.

Zhenye exports 600 containers of finfish products a year but the aim is to expand domestic sales where growth potential “is much bigger”.Aside from being a huge market on its doorstep, China’s value-added demand is growing strongly amid the trend toward convenience.

Same faces in new places

Another thing that happens in Boston every year is that the seafood industry gets introduced to some new faces, but more often, it sees familiar faces with new employers.

There were quite a few big executive moves made in advance of this year’s event.

One of the most high-profile of names to change teams before Boston was Jason Paine, who was recently named the new president of Veitnam-based barramundi farmer AustralisAquaculture, as reported by Undercurrent. Paine previously served for almost 20 years as general manager of US operations for Chilean salmon farmer Multi X.

Another familiar face to change outfits just before the Boston show was Mario Pullara, who was hired by Beaver Street to beef up foodservice sales. Pullara most recently worked for Red Chamber-owned Aqua Star, but he also has been employed by Marubeni’sEastern Fish (two years) and Tampa Maid Fisheries (13 years).

If you were looking for Carey Dougherty, the national sales manager for foodservice at Salisbury, Maryland-based Handy Seafoods, at the Boston show, you needed to head over to the East Coast SeafoodGroup booth instead. Starting this month, she’s the senior national sales manager for New Bedford, Massachusetts-based East Coast after serving four years at Handy, including 18 months in the national sales leadership role and two years and four months as a regional sales manager.

Also worth mentioning is the recent hire by Illex Fishing, an Argentine firm owned by a Chinese investor, of Tomas Gerpe to serve as its general manager. Gerpe was Argentina’s fisheries and aquaculture for three years (2015-2017) before recently joining Illex.

Illex holds a fishing fleet of four squid jiggers, two processing factories in Mar del Plata and PuertoMadryn, and cold storage in Puerto Mardel Planta. It exportsIllex squid, Argentine red shrimp, hake and yellow croaker, among other species.

Yet another big staffing change that got attention in Boston was the promotion of Sidney Azambuja to director of strategic sourcing at RedLobster, the world’s biggest seafood restaurant chain. Azambuja, who got the move up following the exit of Joe Zhou to Slade Gorton & Co., talked to Undercurrent about how he sees the price and supply situation for farmed shrimp as leading to a return to long-term contracts.

“During the pandemic, we went short on contracts. We have to, with all the uncertainty,” he said. “Then, it went to six months, then nine, and now it looks like we can go back to longer contracts.”

The majority of Red Lobster’s shrimp comes from India, butAzambuja, who is Brazilian and also fluent in Spanish, is looking to “get back into Ecuador” for sourcing, he revealed.

Before moving to Red Lobster in 2013, Azambuja worked for USimporter and processor King & Prince Seafood for 10 years, dealing with Latin American shrimp suppliers.


SOURCE: Undercurrent News
PHOTO: Seafood Expo North America 2023. Credit Tom Seaman

Access to finance tightening, but savvy seafood businesses can still make deals

The U.S. Federal Reserve raising interest rates has caused banks to pull back on financing, and that means merger and acquisition activity will slow in the coming quarters, according to a panel of financial experts, speaking during Seafood Expo North America.

The panel, on 14 March at SENA in Boston, Massachusetts, agreed higher interest rates and an uncertain economic situation will lead banks to be much more selective about lending than they were during the post-Covid recovery period when financing was cheap. However, Jason Brantly, a senior vice president and senior relationship manager at Bank of America, said banks will still want to help make deals if the numbers make sense.

“The pendulum has definitely swung from really aggressive lending and obviously cheaper lending rates, but banks are still eager to lend,” Brantly said.

The failure of Silicon Valley Bank on 10 March, and the subsequent failure of Signature Bank, were two of the three largest bank failures in U.S. history, but a lot of the money that was taken out of those banks didn’t just disappear, and Brantly said both Bank of America and fellow panel member John Doucette’sinstitution – M&T Bank – are likely going to see large deposits in the near future as people look for more-stable institutions. That means banks will have more money to reinvest in customers.

However, signs are pointing to banks paring back the amount of lending they do. The leverage B loan market pulled back in January and February as banks decided against loans with slightly higher risk, Brantly said.

“2022 was one of the lowest years in more than a decade, and we’re well below that pace,” he said. “I think what’s happened in the bank market in the last week will probably continue to make it where there is not going to be a lot of folks wanting to go to that market and access capital.”

A court decision finding fishing permits are a revocable privilege, rather than a compensable property, will also impact valuations for seafood companies with wild-catch operations. Depending on how the ruling gets interpreted, that may make it more difficult for companies with fishing vessels to access financing.

“If that becomes a precedent, that will have a substantial impact for those kinds of companies and their ability to access capital markets,” Brantly said. “We depend on that quota as collateral.”

More-expensive financing, coupled with an increasing reluctance from banks to lend to businesses, doesn’t mean merger-and-acquisition activity is off the table – as evidenced by the announcement that Cooke was acquiring Slade Gorton just hours after the panel took place.

“I think the appetite is still there. We’re certainly still interested in lending,” Brantly said.

Doucette said for many transactions requiring large amounts of financing, senior lending institutions aren’t the way to go.

“It’s very easy when rates are low to sit back and say, ‘Get everything you can out of that senior lender,’” he said. “But that term B stuff has just gone away, so now it’s time for the private-equity folks, the family offices. We’ve seen a lot of international activity in the [U.S.] Northeast coming in.”

Term A loans are amortized evenly over five to seven years, while term B loans have nominal amortization over the first five to eight years of the loan and then a large payment in the final year, making it less costly for the company getting the loan, but riskier for the bank in the long run.

Brantly said term B acquisitions are more difficult, but a creative business deal can still be struck – it just takes work and sound advice from advisors. The community development groups in Alaska that partnered with Maruha Nichiro to purchase nine pollock vessels, he said, are one example of groups coming together to make creative deals with unique structures that still accomplish merger and acquisition goals.

Softness creeping into the global economy will also more than likely force some businesses that fall into difficulty to pursue a sale.

“That’s what it’s going to take, is more folks either going together splitting up the deal, or coming together to hold assets in that kind of creative way,” Brantlysaid.

Antarctica Advisors Managing Partner Ignacio Kleiman said that those companies in tight spots should not wait to get in touch with an advisor if the predicted recession makes things difficult for them.

“Don’t wait to call somebody,” he said. “We have worked with many companies in the sector that went through financial difficulties. The smartest ones, they realize it right away, and they would call us or some other advisor.”

Getting ahead of liquidity problems early, and getting in touch with commercial banks early, can help stave off a bigger problem down the road.

“The main thing they are looking for is, do you have a plan?” Kleiman said. “They don’t want to take over your company. They don’t want to liquidate you. They like their clients, and we have done a number of transactions where we work collaboratively. But they want to see that you’re taking your situation seriously.”


Photo by Chris Chase/SeafoodSource

Spain’s Profand acquires Greek seabass, seabream farmer

Spain-based cephalopod and shrimp fishing and processing firm Grupo Profand has acquired a majority stake in Greek seabass and seabream company KefaloniaFisheries.

Profand, which is one of Spanish retailer Mercadona’s main suppliers of seafood, said the acquisition “boosts the group’s presence in aquaculture production, specifically in seabream and seabass”.

Kefalonia is a fully vertically integrated company with four fish farms, two packaging plants and a hatchery for the production of eggs and smolts. Its 150employees will join Profand’s workforce of over 2,500, Profand said.

Profand did not disclose the value of the deal. Antarctica Advisors worked as the exclusive advisor to Kefalonia on the sale.

Enrique Garcia Chillon, CEO of Grupo Profand, said the deal would strengthenProfand’s upstream production, which extends across South America and Europe, both in fishing and aquaculture. Kefalonia produces chilled whole round, gutted and scaled, and bass and bream fillets, as well as frozen bass and bream fillets, both premium and organic. Its products are sold in several Mediterranean countries, with a particular focus on the Italian market.

Profand added it had “total confidence” in Kefalonia’s current management team, which is led by CEO Lara Barazi-Geroulanou. Barazi-Geroulanou is also president of the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers.

The deal for Kefalonia comes after the completion of a corporate restructuring atProfand, following the entry of the investment arm of Banca March, CorporacionFinanciera Alba.

The board reshuffle took place after Alba bought 23.7% of Profand’s shares for €100million ($118m) via its subsidiary Alba Europe in September 2021.

Prior to the deal, the firm was 100% owned by Garcia, now president of the board.

Profand has also integrated the former Caladero processing plant it acquired from retailer Mercadona back in 2019 for €87.5m. The plant, which adds more than€200m to its turnover, is now named Profand Zaragoza.

“Kefalonia Fisheries joining the Profand family will allow us to strengthen our presence in the international market and continue the dynamic growth of the company with a wider product range,” said Barazi-Geroulanou.

Profand said Kefalonia was attracted to Profand’s “strong business model, its high growth potential at a global scale and for its outstanding managing team, who will continue leading the company”.


Source: Undercurrent News


Photo Credit: Kefalonia Fisheries

Kleiman: Icicle whitefish sale boosts all parties’ ‘efficiency’

For Ignacio Kleiman, advising on Cooke’s recently completed sale of IcicleSeafoods’ whitefish sh harvesting and processing assets to a venture owned by Japan’sMaruha Nichiro and two US community development quota (CDQ) groups was a blast from the past.

Kleiman, the managing partner of Miami, Florida-based Antarctica Advisors, told Undercurrent News that he’d advised then employee-owned Icicle in 2007 when the Seattle-based fishing and farming “mini-conglomerate” was sold to US private equity (PE) Paine & Partners.

Paine sold Icicle to Canada’s Cooke in 2016 after a protracted sales process. Cooke’smain interest was in Icicle’s Alaska salmon processing assets, which it subsequently spun off in a merger with Ocean Beauty Seafoods to form OBI Seafoods in 2020. Though Cooke is retaining Icicle’s Washington salmon farming operations, it chose to sell off the inshore pollock harvesting and processing division to Maruha in order to concentrate on “higher value-added seafood resources”.

According to a press release from Maruha and the CDQ groups, the deal includes nine fishing vessels, “shared ownership” of 4% of the total Bering Sea pollock quota– thought to be around 60,000 metric tons — and the Northern Victor, a stationary processing plant permanently moored in Dutch Harbor. Sources told Undercurrent that the deal does not include the vessel Gordon Jensen, which remains with the entity Evening Star, which Cooke has a minority stake in.

Kleiman said the transaction allows Cooke to exit what is for them, a “non-core” business, and generally makes all four parties better off. Maruha, which already operates in the space through Westward Seafoods and other interests. The CDQgroups Coastal Villages Regional Fund (CVRF) and Norton Sound EconomicDevelopment Corporation (NSEDC) are also active pollock harvesters.

“It is very interesting. I think it’s going to make everybody more efficient. I mean, Maruha gets more volume for each plant. The CDQs get to buy resources, quota, which is generational, they want that. They want to keep it forever. So it’s, it’s one of those where it’s win-win,” he said.

He added that the sale of the Icicle assets had been in the works since 2020. It was made more difficult both by the pandemic and the fact that the complexity of inshore pollock fishery and restrictions on foreign ownership effectively limits the buyer pool to “strategic” investors, i.e., those already in the seafood business, rather than outsiders like PE firms and others.

“It was very different from your typical offshore deal. It was very large, a lot of volume. You needed a plant to send a volume to, you had obviously your foreign ownership, regulations, limitations, so Maruha couldn’t go and buy by themselves. So many, many, many moving parts,” Kleiman said.

The fleet of catcher boats is part of the Northern Victor Fleet Cooperative, which in2020 harvested 61,008t of a pollock allocation of 66,018t, according to a public report from the cooperative. The cooperative is made up of 14 vessels landing into the Northern Victor plant.

Maruha has been involved in the Alaska seafood space for decades, although this took a notable turn on Dec. 31, 2020. That’s when the Japanese firm unloaded its struggling Peter Pan Seafood Company salmon processing operation to a group of
investors including Rodger May of Alaska distributor Northwest Seafood Companyand US PE firms McKinley Capital Management and RRG Capital Management. Sources identified that group as competing with the Maruha/CDQ interests for the Cooke whitefish sh assets before the former emerged as the frontrunner. Antarcticaadvised Maruha on the Peter Pan sale.

The Icicle transaction marks the third major piece of pollock dealmaking in recent months after NSEDC bought a majority position in Glacier Fish Company andTrident Seafoods acquired the Starbound factory trawler and two catcher boats from Aleutian Spray Fisheries.

Kleiman said the recent trend of CDQ and Alaska Native corporation investment in the state’s seafood is unsurprising and should be welcomed.

“I think it will continue and it should continue. Not only, you know, they are better owners because them being institutions and not families, for example. It makes sense for them to go and buy quota, resource because they can hold it for 100years, 200 years,” he said.

He said that in the case of CDQ groups, which represent a swathe of remote villages in Western Alaska and use grants of federal fishing quota to fund social programs there, the recent seafood investment spree has been years in the making.

“It took these guys time to first capitalize themselves, make enough money where they can go and make these big investments. I mean, this is tens of millions of dollars of investments. It takes time to save that amount of money and be able to make those moves,” he said.

Maruha, CDQ groups confirm acquisition of Icicle whitefish assets

Japan’s Maruha Nichiro and two community development quota (CDQ) groups in the US state of Alaska have acquired the whitefish harvesting and processing assets that Canada’s Cooke obtained with its 2016 purchase of Icicle Seafoods.

Maruha Nichiro and its CDQ partners, Coastal Villages Regional Fund (CVRF) and Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC), formally announced the deal on Tuesday, Feb. 1, the prospect of which was first reported by Undercurrent News.

According to a press release from the groups, the deal includes nine fishing vessels and “shared ownership” of 4% of the total Bering Sea pollock quota — thought to be around 60,000 metric tons, the Northern Victor and a “stationary processing plant permanently moored in Dutch Harbor”.

The fleet of catcher boats are part of the Northern Victor Fleet Cooperative, which in 2020, harvested 61,008t of a pollock allocation of 66,018t, according to a public report from the cooperative. The cooperative is made up of 14 vessels landing into the Northern Victor plant, with eight minority-owned by Cooke’s Icicle.

“Maruha-Nichiro is pleased to be able to expand our partnership with NSEDC and Coastal Villages Region Fund. This new opportunity will allow us to enhance the value of service we bring to all our stakeholders: customers, business partners, shareholders, employees and the local communities where we operate,” MarkJoHahnson, president of Westward Seafoods was quoted as saying.

Today marks another milestone in our longstanding pursuit of NSEDC’s vision to increase our ownership in Bering Sea fisheries, from which our company was formed and has built upon to deliver meaningful benefits to our member communities,” Frank Katchatag, NSEDC’s chairman said.

The terms of the sale, which was managed by US seafood-focused advisoryAntarctica Advisors and began in 2020, were not disclosed. Sources previously told Undercurrent that the deal would likely bring a price tag somewhere in the $180million to $200m range.

The two CDQ groups — which use fishing and other revenues to support residents in a swathe of remote coastal Alaskan communities — already have several investments in the Alaska pollock fishery, including one with Maruha Nichiro.

The transaction marks the third major piece of pollock dealmaking in recent months after NSEDCbought a majority position in Glacier Fish Company (GLC) and Trident Seafoods acquired the Starbound factory trawler and two catcher boats from Aleutian Spray Fisheries.

Cooke CEO Glenn Cooke said in a statement made to Undercurrent News that the company chose to exit the pollock business to better serve “customer needs” with a focus on “higher value-added seafood resources such as salmon, sea bass and seabream, crab, scallops and shrimp”.

Cooke promised more seafood dealmaking to come for the company.

“We are targeting more acquisitions to expand our global wild and farmed subsidiaries including launching a new frozen at sea whole shrimp trawler in southern Argentine waters for the 2022 season,” he said.

Maruha’s partnership

Partnering again with the CDQ groups means Maruha Nichiro can overcome US foreign ownership rules in fishing, sources said. As a foreign company, MaruhaNichiro can only own up to 25% of the Northern Victor coop’s vessels and licenses.

There is no limitation on how much foreign companies can own on the land-based processing and sales side, however. So, Maruha Nichiro could control 100% of Northern Victor, which processes the pollock from the coop’s catcher vessels. Canada’s Cooke also directly owns under 25% of the Northern Victor catcher boats, but owns the processing plant outright, sources said.

The deal will deepen the relationship between the Japanese giant, which has over$8 billion in sales and operations around the globe, and the two CDQ groups.

Back in 2011, NSEDC subsidiary Siu Alaska Corp. joined with CVRF to acquire the fishing assets of Seattle-based Wards Cove, using a joint venture named BSAIPartners.

The press release stated that the transaction was carried out by BSAI Ventures, which includes CVRF and NSEDC as joint 75% owners, and Maruha CapitalInvestment, which owns the rest.

According to the most recent NSEDC annual report for 2020, Marua Nichiro is a”minority owner” in BSAI, which owns six pollock trawl catcher vessels and the associated quota. Five of these vessels, the Alaska Rose, Bering Rose, Sea Wolf, Destination, and Great Pacific, “actively participated in the Bering Sea pollock fishery in 2020”, the report states. The vessels are operated by the Alaska Boat Co.

The Alaska Boat vessels fish as part of the Unalaska Fleet Cooperative and deliver their catch to Maruha Nichiro’s Alyeska Seafoods plant in Dutch Harbor. In 2020, the five vessels harvested over 123m pounds of pollock and nearly 900,000 pounds of Pacific cod. The company “had another very profitable year in 2020”, according to the report.

For Tokyo-based Maruha Nichiro, the world’s largest seafood company, the deal would add to its already considerable presence in Alaska pollock at a time when theUS total allowable catch (TAC)
is coming down by close to 240,000t in 2022.

The group, according to its website, boasts a 27% share of the pollock market inNorth America. Companies majority and minority-owned by Maruha Nichiroalready harvest and sell around 300,000t of pollock. Maruha Nichiro’s Alyeska and Westward Seafoods plants process 13.8% of the overall TAC for the fishery, which was around 204,000t in 2021.

As well as the Alyeska and Westward plants, Maruha also owns surimi maker Trans-Ocean Products and Premier Pacific Seafoods, the sales company for PhoenixProcessor Limited Partnership, which operates the Seattle, Washington-based motherships Phoenix and Excellence. Maruha Nichiro owns minority stakes in both vessels, as well as a minority stake in Golden Alaska, a mothership that has 4.1% of the TAC.

Maruha Nichiro also has minority interests in a fleet of catcher vessels landing at its plants via Westward Fishing Co., run by Greg Baker and Marcus Alden. WestwardFishing oversees the administration and operations of five US flag catcher vessels; Alaskan Command, Chelsea K, Pacific Knight, Viking and Westward I.

Maruha Nichiro has been involved in the Alaska seafood space for decades, although this took a notable turn on Dec. 31, 2020. That’s when the Japanese firm unloaded its struggling Peter Pan Seafood Company salmon processing operation to a group of investors including Rodger May of Alaska distributor NorthwestSeafood Company and US private equities McKinley Capital Management and RRGCapital Management. Sources identify ed that group as competing with the Maruha/CDQ interests for the Cooke whitefish assets before the former emerged as the frontrunner.

For Cooke, the sale marks an exit from pollock harvesting, a space it entered with the purchase of Seattle-based Icicle, which described itself as a “miniconglomerate” in the seafood space.

In addition to the whitefish harvesting and processing assets, Icicle brought Atlantic salmon farms in the state of Washington to Cooke, which the company is converting to raise steelhead and sablefish, and several shoreside processing plants focused on Alaska salmon. Cooke spun off the plants in a deal with Seattle-basedOcean Beauty Seafoods to create the Alaska processing venture OBI Seafoods.

Like Maruha Nichiro’s sale of Peter Pan, the OBI deal came as mid-sized Alaskaprocessors have been losing market share amid consolidation in the sector and a fierce rivalry between sector titans Trident Seafoods and Silver Bay Seafoods that has
spurred consolidation and modernization in the space.



With over 60 major deals last year, even COVID can’t stop seafood’s M&A streak

M&A activity in the sector went on a tear in 2021, and is already off with a bang this year.

Despite another year of the COVID-19 pandemic, investor interest in the seafood sector was still strong in 2021. A tally of IntraFish coverage shows at least 65 notable mergers, acquisitions or significant investments occurred last year.

That’s compared with the roughly 75 deals that occurred in 2019, pre-pandemic, and the nearly 60 that took place in 2020.

Inevitably, the activity was slightly slower than in pre-pandemic times, as travel bans remained in place for much of the year.

As Ignacio Kleiman, a principal at seafood M&A advisory Antarctica Advisors, put it in an interview with IntraFish earlier last year: “It is very difficult to make a large investment decision if you are not able to thoroughly kick the tires in person.”

But 2021 saw a lot of pent-up demand carry over from 2020, and while COVID — particularly the new omicron variant — hangs over the world, activity and travel will inevitably pick up again, with some expecting a return to “normal” in the first half of this year.

Some sectors hotter than others

Of all the segments, farmed salmon showed perhaps the most interesting M&A trajectory, with the long-running “will they, won’t they?” purchase of Australia’s Huon Aquaculture by Brazilian meat giant JBS; Grieg’s move out of the UK with its sale to Scottish Sea Farms; and NTS’s purchase of Norway Royal Salmon, a deal that creates the world’s sixth-largest salmon producer.

In whitefish, too, the scent of money was strong. During the year, Russian catching giant Norebo was involved in a string of acquisitions, reflecting rocketing investments in both the public and private sectors into the country’s seafood industry.

In Central America, shrimp farmer Martec bought Costa Rican producer Rainforest Tilapia from AquaChile.

And in the fisheries and processing segment there were deals galore. Alaska’s wild salmon industry, for example, saw consolidation of the sector continue.

Just weeks before the start of Bristol Bay fishing season, Canada-based Canfisco swept in and bought up fellow major processor Marubeni-owned North Pacific Seafoods. It followed Canfisco’s earlier purchase of the assets of Bristol Bay salmon processor Deep Sea Fisheries and a string of major mergers the year prior.

Canada also led big buck action in 2021 when Premium Brands, along with the Mi’kmaq First Nation, completed a $769 million takeover of Canadian seafood giant Clearwater Seafood, and Sofina Foods reached a deal to acquire Young’s Seafood parent Eight Fifty, bringing the UK’s largest seafood company under Canadian ownership.

“A lot of deals were put on hold, or they slowed down, or they died, because of the inability to travel,” said Kleiman.

“I think that affected volume for 2021, and that’s why I think in 2022 the picture is going to be substantially different … I think 2022 will be a very active year.”

A week into the New Year and IntraFish has already reported on a string of M&A deals.

In the United States, seafood supplier Fortune International and foodservice giants Chef’s Warehouse and HF Foods Group made acquisitions in the sector.

Faroese salmon farmer Bakkafrost acquired Denmark-based Munkebo Seafood, and two interesting acquisitions from Thai Union Group and Russian giant Norebo indicate a change in how companies think about the supply chain.

Private equity’s massive war chest puts seafood industry in the crosshairs

 With plenty of ‘dry powder’ to detonate, private equity funds are competing with each other and the seafood industry itself for deals. 

 A growing number of the world’s investors are waking up to something only a small group of private equity funds, trade buyers, venture capitalists and M&A advisors have known for years: there’s big money to be made in seafood. 

 The race is on, and the accelerating rate at which private equity firms in particular are investing in the seafood sector shows that fund managers recognize the industry — processing, fisheries, aquaculture and equipment — has all the right drivers. 

Simply put, there is a lot of demand for capital in the seafood industry, and private equity funds have more cash to deploy than ever. 

Private equity firms are benefiting from market tailwinds triggered by historically low interest rates and record fundraising. 

 In the US alone, private equity “dry powder” — the amount of money funds have to invest — is at an estimated $150.1 billion (€132 billion), according to PWC’s Private Equity 2021 Mid- Year Outlook. 

And that dry powder is being put to use. Private equity-backed M&A deals more than doubled to a record $818.4 billion (€722 billion) in the first nine months of 2021, up from $315.2 billion (€278 billion) last year, according to Reuters. 

 Birgir Brynjolfsson, a partner at Antarctica Advisors, a boutique M&A specialist focused on the seafood sector, said the trend in private equity is coinciding with a growing need for investment in everything from new technology to new vessels, facility upgrades and consolidation. 

With underlying assets that appreciate in value — plants, vessels, fishing quotas and licenses — and a growing demand for its products, the seafood industry has become “very attractive” to the sector, Brynjolfsson said. 

Getting more aggressive 

Ten years ago, Antarctica Advisors was knocking on the doors of private equity funds trying to introduce them to seafood as an investment opportunity. It took a lot of time, effort and salesmanship, and for the most part few funds took the plunge. 

“Today we are in a position where we are getting the phone calls from the different private equity funds asking us for opportunities,” said Brynjolfsson.

While big names have invested in the sector in the past — Altor, Bain, Permira and Carlyle to name a few — the trend has accelerated over the last few years. 

In October, the $6 billion US private equity fund ACON snapped up US scallop supplier Northern Wind plus two small Canadian lobster companies in a deal advised by Antarctica. 

Last month, private equity group Paine Schwartz, the former owner of Alaska processor Icicle Seafoods, acquired a 50 percent stake in Hendrix Genetics, the owner of shrimp and salmon egg, smolt and broodstock suppliers, including Kona Bay, Troutlodge and Landcatch. 

There is no single reason that could be considered a turning point for the uptick in interest, but rather there are a combination of factors, Brynjolfsson said. 

With more capital being allocated to private equity, these funds have to look further afield for interesting opportunities, and seafood is, to many of them, new territory. 

In addition, some segments of seafood are now emerging as a potential fit for funds investing in sustainability focused companies. 

And most importantly, seafood consumption — the No. 1 driver of the sector — is growing and shows no sign of declining. 

The typical lifespan 

Typical private equity funds have a limited life cycle, and look to deliver a return to investors and sell off their stake in a company within 5-7 years. 

Whether the limited life cycle of a private equity fund is long enough for it to make a significant difference depends on where it invests in the sector and value chain, however, and some investors have paid significantly for not understanding the subtle nuances of the sector. 

“In some case 5-7 years is an acceptable period, but in other cases you may not achieve what you wanted to achieve in that period because of external factors out of your control,” said Brynjolfsson.

Magnus Bjarnason, managing partner at Iceland-based advisory firm Mar Advisors, noted that the sometimes unpredictable nature of some segments of the seafood industry, especially fisheries and aquaculture, can make private equity’s timeline too short. 

“Seafood is a tremendously profitable sector, but it is also cyclical … and these cycles make it difficult for private equity to get used to,” Bjarnason told IntraFish. 

While Bjarnason does see private equity activity picking up, he sees equally strong growth in institutional capital and pension and family funds, whose longer horizons are sometimes a better fit. 

Part of private equity’s challenge is that shaking loose owners from their stakes can be difficult in the seafood industry, where private ownership is higher than in most other sectors, and founding families and their descendants can be strongly committed to their businesses, Bjarnason noted. 

That is giving rise to a hybrid model where investors essentially partner with private owners, with both bringing assets the other party doesn’t have: money, and expertise. 

A battle for buys 

While private equity funds increase their activity in seafood, existing large seafood companies with the means to acquire and consolidate have been more passive of late. 

Ignacio Kleiman, managing partner at Antarctica, said the pandemic forced many potential trade buyers to look inwards and handle the challenges of day-to-day operations, which for some companies was the right move. 

“There was a lot of organic growth, and good margin expansion because demand was strong, so I think that made them happy,” Kleiman told IntraFish. 

The year prior, when the reality of the pandemic first set in, the economic uncertainty and inability to travel had a chilling effect on industry consolidation. 

“A lot of deals were put on hold, or they slowed down, or they died because of the inability to travel,” said Kleiman. 

“It is very difficult to make a large investment decision if you are not able to thoroughly kick the tires in person. That affected volume in 2021 [and] I think in 2022 the picture is going to be substantially different.” 

Private equity tends to follow the deals, and move into sectors where competing funds are active. 

Additionally, when funds buy into a company, the strategy is often to grow that company both organically and through add-on acquisitions, so it stands to reason more deals will be forthcoming. 

“This is definitely the beginning of something more that is coming, no doubt about that,” said Antarctica’s Brynjolfsson. “We’ve never been busier.” 

Kleiman: Industry dealmakers must ‘dust off, come back stronger’ to compete with PE

More and more private equity (PE) firms are looking to get into the seafood sector, said two mergers and acquisitions (M&A) advisors who have just done deals. 

Ignacio Kleiman, whose Antarctica Advisors just closed the sale of US scallop processor Northern Wind to ACON Investments, told Undercurrent News more PE firms were involved in the process. Acon, which has over $6 billion in assets under management, has combined Northern Wind with two Canadian lobster processors, Suncoast Seafood and Raymond O’Neill & Son Fisheries (ROSF) in a new platform, Atlantic Sustainable Catch (ASC). 

“Private equity is making a strong entry into the industry. Others didn’t get there in this [Northern Wind] process, but they like the industry and have the capital. They will likely create more platforms that will help consolidate this industry,” Kleiman said. 

“I think that private equity will be much more prevalent than was before. There is going to be new names coming into the sector.” Between “six to eight” new PE firms could emerge as consolidators, Kleiman told Undercurrent.

“The strategic guys will have to dust off a little bit and come back and become stronger players. Otherwise, they’re going to start losing ground and letting private equity pick up the good companies,” Kleiman said.

Read more

Antarctica Advisors Acts as Exclusive Investment Banking Advisor to Mitsui Co. (U.S.A.), Inc. in the sale of assets of Mitsui Foods, Inc. to Gellert Global Group’s Atalanta Corporation

November 1, 2021Antarctica Advisors LLC, the leading Seafood Industry-focused M&A advisory firm, acted as the exclusive investment banking advisor to Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc. (“Mitsui”), in the sale of the assets of Mitsui Foods, Inc. (“MFI”) to Gellert Global Group’s (“GGG”) Atalanta Corporation.

MFI is a leading importer and distributor of canned and frozen seafood as well as canned fruit and vegetables, that dates back to1953.  Since then, Mitsui Foods has been importing fine grocery and specialty food products from around the world under various brands. These brands, including the EMPRESS® brand, will be integrated across the Gellert Global Group divisions, including Atalanta Corporation and Camerican International. 

Read more

US PE may eye scallop vessel buys after Northern Wind deal closure

It’s “possible” a sizeable US-based private equity may look at upstream deals for scallop vessels after closing the acquisitions of processor Northern Wind and two Canadian lobster companies, Suncoast Seafood and Raymond O’Neill & Son Fisheries (ROSF). 

ACON Investments has entered the US scallop sector in a big way with the deal for Northern Wind, based in the industry hub of New Bedford, Massachusetts. However, Northern Wind does not own any vessels, buying from third parties for its plant complex on the Whaling City’s waterfront. 

Ignacio Kleiman, the founder of Antarctica Advisors, the seafood-focused boutique advisory firm which advised Northern Wind on the sale, said upstream is one direction Acon could go with the lobster and scallops platform now named Atlantic Sustainable Catch (ASC). 

Read more