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.