Bundrant: Trident’s ‘Wild Alaska pollock revolution’ will gather pace in 2018
News 24/01/2018 - Nguyễn Trí Tín
The “revolution” of new Alaska pollock products from Trident Seafoods will gather pace in 2018, Joe Bundrant, the vertically-integrated US company’s CEO, told Undercurrent News. In 2017, with prices for pin-bone out (PBO) Alaska pollock fillets hitting the bottom at around $2,300 per-metric-ton, Trident’s NPD drive started to kick in. As a result of this and also the efforts of other companies, as well as more demand for pollock with cod prices set high and the outlook for lower supply in 2018, PBO prices are moving up.
“All of our R&D centers around the world are focused on new products. There is more to come, a lot more to come. We’re all focused on creating new markets for this great resource,” he said.
In addition to new products going into Walmart in the US, Trident has also got a pollock sandwich listed in Starbucks in China. Also, Trident is reportedly the raw material supplier for several new pollock items on meal kit company Blue Apron's website.
“For the Walmart product, the key to that thing is the coating, which is all-natural. That’s the magic here, as it holds the product together and keeps the moisture in,” Bundrant told Undercurrent.
“There is more [NPD] to come in China and the rest of the world. For example, we have some protein noodles coming out of our R&D center [in Motley, Minnesota],” said Bundrant.
“We’re not going to call them surimi noodles, we are going to call them protein pasta. That’s in test right now. It’s got to go through all the innovation steps. But, I am impressed. I took it home and cooked it for my wife and they were good,” he said.
A product Trident launched in 2015 in the US, the pollock burger, is selling well in Europe. Trident introduced the product to the European market after buying the former Pacific Andes International Holdings-controlled plant in Riepe, Germany, which has been renamed Pickenpack Seafoods.
“They are in stores and doing well and we’re running some promotions for lent,” he said.
Trident has also launched a chilled pollock burger, in the US market, which is not faring so well.
“The chilled burger is going ok, not great, but ok. It’s one of my favorites, but I learned a long time ago, just because I like it does not mean it’s going to be successful. It is the consumers that will ultimately decide its success,” said Bundrant.
Bundrant declined to reveal just how much additional pollock raw material is going into the company’s NPD programs.
“The amount being used is significant; I don’t want to give a number,” he said.
However, Trident was reportedly out in the market as a buyer during the 2017 Groundfish Forum in Lisbon, Portugal, looking to secure raw material for 2018.
Bundrant declined to comment on this, or on the price outlook for 2018.
“I do not want to talk about price, the law of supply and demand will determine markets,” he said. “Also, cod supply will be down, so prices are up, creating new opportunities for wild Alaska pollock.”
Supply of pollock, as well as Pacific cod and Atlantic cod and haddock, are down significantly in 2018.
In November, Russia set its 2018 TAC for pollock at 1.781m metric tons, a reduction of 5.8% y-o-y, according to a decree from the country’s agricultural ministry.
Russian vessels will have an overall TAC of around 110,000t less in 2018. The TAC in the Sea of Okhotsk fishery, certified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard, is stable at 966,000t, however.
In the US, the Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended an increase of around 20,000t in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Bogoslof fisheries to 1.383m metric tons, the Bering Sea pollock TAC will fall 20% from 208,595t in 2017 to 166,228t in 2018.
The 42,367 drop in the Bering Sea means the 2018 TAC in the US is down 23,026t.
“Also, cod supply will be down, so prices are up, creating new opportunities for wild Alaska pollock,” said Bundrant. “There is also lots of new consumption in Russia, China and Japan, even Canada.”
For Atlantic cod In the Barents Sea, Russian, Norwegian and vessels from other European countries have 775,000t to catch, a reduction of 13% y-o-y. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) was recommending a cut of 20%, however.
Looking at haddock in the Barents Sea, the TAC for 2018 is 202,305t, compared to 233,000t in 2017; a 13% y-o-y cut in line with ICES advice.
For the US Pacific cod fishery, the Bering Sea TAC is down 16%, to 188,136t. The TAC in the Aleutian Islands is 15,695t, stable on 2017. In the Gulf of Alaska, the 2018 TAC is down 80%, to 13,096t
It’s a big shift from the end of 2016, when supply was up and the impact of the US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing of Pacific Andes International Holdings was still being felt in the pollock market.
“A year ago, things could not get worse, the quotas were up in Russia, you had the Pacific Andes bankruptcy; everything went the wrong way. It’s a different time now,” Bundrant told Undercurrent.
A revolution underway
Bundrant, son of Trident founder Chuck, said the name change at the end of 2015 that meant only US-caught fish can be labeled “Alaska pollock” was a major step in growing sales of the species in the domestic market.
Since this happened, more and more retailers and foodservice outlets are labeling their products as “wild Alaskan” pollock and using US fish, rather than double frozen blocks based on Russian raw material processed in China.
This external name change then meant there was a need for an internal shift, which has seen Bundrant make sure everyone internally only refers to the fish as “wild Alaska pollock”.
“I told everyone in this office, if we are going to start a revolution, it starts right here, with us. We are not just calling this pollock. We did not go back to [Washington] DC and fight like hell to protect our brand, which is Alaska, to not use it,” he said. “I get a weekly achievement report from all our sales people every week and if they do not call it wild Alaska pollock, they are getting a call from me.”
Some has taken the level of commitment to Bundrant’s “wild Alaska pollock” mantra to an extreme.
“One of our team members in Brazil even got a ‘wild Alaska pollock tattoo’ on his leg. I am proud and humbled by what our team has done. There is such commitment from our team all around the world, from Japan, China, Europe, South America and the US,” he said.
According to Bundrant, Alaska pollock has the “most beautiful story that nobody knows”.
The fish is “wild, natural, sustainable and traceable and 99.7% by-catch free. This is a story consumers want to know, they just don’t know it yet. Even the 0.3% by-catch that we do catch, we feed it to food banks. Trident just passed 20 million meals [for food banks]”, he said.
“There is nothing to hide, it’s completely transparent. We also have some of the best science and we are only catching 15% of the biomass, 85% is left to reproduce,” he said.
“Also, look at the coastal communities in Alaska; if they have a healthy processor, they are going to be healthy. If you do not, in these remote villages, it’s tough for that village.
There is also a strong sense of pride in what Trident has built in the state where Bundrant was born and his father built up the company. “I was born in Alaska, I am really proud of what my dad did there, it is pretty amazing. He has always invested in Alaska and for Alaska.”
As well as expanding the company's product mix, Bundrant is also expanding its sales presence.
In December last year, Undercurrent reported that Trident has established a sales office in El Salvador, as well as an operation in Chile.
Bundrant confirmed the office in the Central American country is for sales, but he declined to comment further on the Chilean operation.
“We just opened an office in El Salvador. It’s a guy I have known for 15 years and I trust him to build a business for us down there."
Bundrant declined to reveal the name of the hire in El Salvador.
Part of the rationale for the office is to widen the sales of Alaska pollock, he said. Trident, which is the largest quota holder for pollock, has been on a new product and market drive for the fish, for which prices have been at rock bottom levels. They are now firming, however, with Trident now in the market as a buyer for its value-added programs.
There is no market for pollock in Central America, at the moment, he said.
“It’s like Steve Jobs said, people didn’t know they wanted an iPhone, people don’t know they want wild Alaska pollock. We have to create demand by coming up with great products,” he said.
“It’s all about wild Alaska pollock. We are committed to Alaska salmon, cod and every species we produce, but there is good demand for most all of those. For wild Alaska pollock, we need to create more markets,” said Bundrant.
According to Undercurrent sources, the Santiago, Chile, operation Trident has recently established is more about sourcing than sales.
Although Trident is one of the largest wild salmon processors in Alaska, it’s also sourcing farmed salmon and other species from Chile for sale in the US, sources said.
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