High Liner Foods: A Global Vision
NOTE: The following feature story was written by Steve Warburton for the Nova Scotia "Come to life" initiative. "Come to life" is a public-private sector initiative that markets Nova Scotia as an excellent place in which to live, work, invest, play, and visit.
The High Liner brand of frozen seafood is already a household name across Canada and soon it will be known right across North America.
The Lunenburg-based company is re-branding its Fisher Boy brand, popular in the United States, with the High Liner name. It is just the latest in a long series of strategic changes the company has navigated through its 107-year-old history.
The company began in 1899 with the founding of W.C. Smith & Company, a salt fish operation located in Lunenburg. Once known as National Sea Products, High Liner remains headquartered in the town designated as a United Nations world heritage site. As well as the head office, Lunenburg's High Liner plant is one of the world's most modern and diversified food processing sites.
It seems each year, brings another wave of change or challenges to the fishing industry, but High Liner president Henry Demone is particularly buoyant about the future.
"We think it is fantastic," Demone says. "We know the older people are, and the more money they have, the more seafood they eat."
That means baby boomers in the company's key North American market are moving into their prime seafood eating years. Demone expects the company's past as a fish processor, and its present, as a marketer of superior prepared frozen seafood products, will give it a unique advantage.
High Liner already markets its brands to almost every major retail chain in North America, and to restaurants and institutions throughout Canada and United States.
Almost every kid in Canada is familiar with High Liner, and its famous Captain High Liner ad campaigns, with most having eaten fish sticks from the company's familiar blue package. It has made this Nova Scotia company a very successful brand name.
Innovative and dependable are words often used to describe High Liner. All told, the company currently employs more than 600 people in Canada and the United States. Many staff have been with the company, or in the fish business, for decades. Their dedication and expertise is vital for developing new products and streamlining the systems for High Liner's present offerings.
Demone identifies his people as one of the three strengths that powers High Liner's bottom line. The company's history as a fish harvesting and processing enterprise means its rich fishing past is accustomed to innovation. And finally, Demone says, the company's strong philosophy as a truly consumer- and customer-focused operation brings it all together.
"We get up in the morning trying to figure out new products for our customers," Demone says.
Demone points to new products and species at High Liner to illustrate the point. Whether it is a tilapia, or aquaculture-raised salmon fillet in an onion or garlic sauce, the company is responding to consumer demands and trends.
From a corporate point of view, the company's strengths include a worldwide procurement system based on state-of-the-art, Internet information, expertise in frozen food logistics and strong relationships.
High Liner is also looking to expand its product portfolio and extend its leadership by acquiring complimentary businesses beyond seafood.
While the company's head office location may be off the beaten path for a multi-million dollar organization, the company strategy places its key people where they are needed.
Demone admits attracting students fresh out of university is a challenge for the company, however, but says those looking to put down roots, find Lunenburg very appealing.
The quality of life and the cost of buying a great home is much cheaper than in a major centre like Montreal or Calgary. "It is a very nice place to raise kids. When we try to attract those kinds of people, we are successful," he says.
Demone says the company puts a lot of effort into working with its global suppliers and customers which taps them into important information like consumer trends.
"What you do everyday is what connects you to the broader world," he says.
When Demone talks about the worldwide consumer habits and identifies his markets, one realizes he and his team have a global vision. High Liner has emerging markets in Eastern Europe, where the former Soviet bloc is consuming more and more seafood. He also talks about habits of the Japanese seafood consumer and how that impacts decisions.
"It's a unique market there," he says.
He says the decline of North America fish stocks has forced the company to make some tough decisions to refocus and restructure. He believes when you are faced with strong outside forces, it makes it a lot easier to motivate change.
And, he says, it has all been for the good.
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