Sea Crest Fisheries Ltd.
Sea Crest Fisheries Ltd. has been doing business in Nova Scotia since 1983. Specializing in quality animal food for mink farmers throughout Nova Scotia the company has seen steady growth and success over the last five years.
The business was established by a group of former fishermen more than 30 years ago. Sea Crest began as a herring processing and distribution plant, taking in fish from the North Atlantic and distributing value-added products in foreign markets including Europe and Asia.
As time has gone on, the business has shifted focus. Sea Crest is now a leading provider of animal feed. While this market may seem a far cry from seafood processing, Brian Saulnier says it is not as far off base as one might expect. The operation still pulls a significant amount of raw material from local fishermen – fish is one of the main ingredients in mink food. As competitors stepped in over the years to take over seafood processing and export, Sea Crest has found an unexpected but successful market niche.
The home court advantage
Operating from a headquarters in Comeauville, Nova Scotia, Sea Crest has an advantage over feed providers outside of the marine province. All of the company’s customers are in Nova Scotia, where the mink industry is still operating steadily, despite some challenges in recent years.
As one of the leading providers of mink food, the company operates hand in hand with the mink industry. “Mink was doing well until 2014 when prices took a downturn,” Saulnier explains. “Having said that, we haven’t seen a difference in production. Our customers had herds established and mink to raise. Most people gambled that industry would stabilize in year. We do not see a slowdown in production for 2015 although I don’t know that the industry will see the same growth as the previous years.”
2014 brought the greatest revenue on record for Sea Crest. Saulnier reports that the industry appears to have weathered the storm. After such a rapid increase in demand, he is thankful for a slowdown. “This is good in a sense because we were not equipped to handle the growth the way it was going,” he admits “We have finally been able to catch our breath, so that if the mink industry continues to recover, we can tackle further growth in the future.”
With less downtime than years past, Saulnier has made moves to expand the company’s space and capacity. “We actually made two acquisitions in the last three years,” he notes. “We sold one of them. The other is adjacent to our facility. This is a ground fish processing business that was next door. We needed the building and the land, so we made that purchase in 2012. Our operating capacity is probably about 50 percent larger now.”
Beyond the acquisition, Sea Crest underwent a significant plant upgrade in 2013. “We have increased our freezing capacity with an automated freezing line. We have added more production with the same staff; we even hired a few more people. So while we have improved automation, we have not laid anyone off. We also made improvements to automate our loading and unloading and added a few more silos for feed storage.
With all this growth, the company has also had to increase delivery capabilities. To keep product moving out daily, Saulnier added trucks to the company’s fleet. He has also installed a generator system to back up automation. “Our feed goes out fresh daily so we can’t afford to have our systems break down.”
More than any capacity issues, Saulnier says the largest challenge of keeping up with demand has been finding raw materials. The company uses raw protein ingredients, including poultry, fish and pork as well as grains. With those four main ingredients in limited supply, Sea Crest has faced stiff competition in the supply chain.
To counter this challenge, Sea Crest has been working to build new supplier relationships. “We have been forced to import ingredients from the U.S. in order to keep up with demand,” he elaborates. “We set up a quality control laboratory to stay on top of quality of products coming in and out. We have has such an increase in volume that we have had to take extra measures to ensure the quality and safety of our products.”
While the last few years have been exhausting, yet exciting for the whole team, Saulnier is excited for continued growth of the business. He plans to stay the course, making adjustments as necessary to keep customers happy and their animals fed. Sea Crest Fisheries Ltd. remains a leader in mink feed, maintaining a strong market in Nova Scotia.