Fishing for success

rod-smith-2_rt2Rod Smith is export business manager at award-winning Huon Aquaculture, a Tasmanian aquaculture operation that’s transformed from a small scale business into an exporter of premium salmon. Here he reveals how he’s helping grow the brand internationally—and is working to control operational volumes so the company can always meet international and domestic demand.

TRADE EXPRESS: Today Huon Aquaculture is the largest privately owned salmon growing company in Australia, but it started as a family business. Can you explain how the company has grown?

Huon Aquaculture Group was established in 1988 by Peter and Frances Bender. Back then the salmon farming industry was just getting started in Tasmania. Peter and Frances were traditional beef and sheep farmers. They began with a small-scale aquaculture operation and produced 15 tonnes of salmon in their first production year.  The initial focus was to grow the best quality salmon and supply salmon to other processors as contract growers.

They supplemented their farming knowledge with specific salmon industry studies, and developed techniques and practices to improve the HUON systems and salmon growing processes.  They invested strongly in resources and skilled employees with expertise to ensure continuous improvement within the aquaculture operations.

Today, Huon produces approximately 14,000 tonnes of product and currently employs over 400 staff. The product is still grown in the pristine waters of Tasmania, and distributed nationally throughout Australia and delivered fresh to key international destinations including Japan, Singapore, Dubai, Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

TRADE EXPRESS: How has the way you have connected with your customer base changed over this period?

The transition from a contract grower to a direct supplier of a premium brand required us to build a professional sales team and develop marketing materials.  It is important to build strong business relationships with key distribution partners and provide all the resources necessary to educate end-users and consumers about the unique properties and quality attributes of Huon salmon. We have established a distribution network of sales channels and support all business relationships through a flexible and effective customer service team.

TRADE EXPRESS: What are the particular logistic or regulatory challenges of aquaculture when it comes to a large and growing business?

Aquaculture has developed into a major industry in Tasmania and regulated by the State Government and Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE). Salmon is farmed under licence and is closely monitored for statutory provisions under the Marine Farming Planning Act (1995), which covers operational conditions, management controls, and environmental sustainability. Huon manages our salmon products from ‘egg to plate’. This means complete integration of quality and safety compliance from our feed suppliers through farm operations to the final stages of hygiene and food safety at our processing facilities.  The final hurdle is to ensure efficient and appropriate handling of our quality products from our door to the distribution points and consumer access.

TRADE EXPRESS: What are the company’s plans for future growth?

Consumers around the world are embracing salmon as a flavoursome ‘superfood’.  Demand for salmon products has been growing, and Huon will continue to expand production volume capacity.  A recent government approval for additional leaseholds at Macquarie Harbour on the West Coast of Tasmania will provide opportunities to increase annual production for the future. We also have a highly motivated team who focus on continuous improvement within our operations to ensure efficient and sustainable farm practices.  Through innovation and technology Huon has opportunities to improve hatchery throughputs, increase salmon health and welfare to encourage greater growth rates, and also protect the salmon environment to minimise losses from natural predators.

Huon was awarded the 2012 Tasmanian Exporter of the Year, and DHL was a direct contributor to the success of our export team and fully supports our export strategies.  DHL has been a long term strategic partner with Huon. They have ensured that our products are delivered to key export markets in an efficient and streamlined process.  DHL has established routes to market and provides a range of delivery options suited to each individual export region—that’s something we really value.  Huon has a great relationship with the DHL customer service team. They are very responsive and flexible when it comes to the requirements of our customer base.

Huon Aquaculture website

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