Sea Crest Fisheries Ltd.: Manufacturing Fine Mink Fodder

A group of former fishermen founded Sea Crest Fisheries Ltd. (SCF) in Nova Scotia in 1983. “The company has been around for almost 30 years,” says Brian Saulnier, president of SCF. “We have changed quite a bit in the last five to six years, though.”

For a few decades, SCF specialized in processing and distributing herring from the North Atlantic seas to foreign buyers in Europe and Asia. “The name hasn’t changed, but we’re primarily an animal feed manufacturer now, as strange as that may seem,” says Saulnier.

Saulnier has been with SCF for 26 years. “I started working here as a summer job when I was in school,” he says. “That part-time job turned into a full-time job.” Today Saulnier is running the operation, constantly working to upgrade his facilities to meet growing demand for SCF’s product.

“We’ve grown quite a bit over the last five years,” says Saulnier. The SCF team now provides mink feed to farmers all over Nova Scotia, and doesn’t plan on stopping there. While SCG has vast production capabilities, Saulnier says work within the province has kept him and the staff busy enough.

Production and Growth

Herring is still a mainstay in the operations of the business, as fish is a major component of the special feed produced at SCF. “We produce feed primarily for mink farms in Nova Scotia,” explains Saulnier. “These animals are raised for their fur. There is a big mink industry here and animals, by nature, eat meat and fish.”

The main ingredients in SCF’s mink feed are fish, poultry, pork and grain. “That’s mink food in a nutshell,” explains Saulnier. Production is performed entirely in house and, according to Saulnier, SCF uses its own fleet and local companies to truck raw material and finished products in and out of the plant. “Our strategic partners are limited, but important,” he explains.

The company operates out of a 50,000-square foot facility that is constantly expanding, as mink is a growing industry in Nova Scotia. SCF has some competitors, although Saulnier says his team has the home-court advantage in his market. “What makes us different is the fact that we’re still tied into the industry,” he explains. “We still have boats and quota for herring, so we have better access to our resources.” With such good connections, the company is well equipped to serve customers. “Our customer base is expanding,” says Saulnier. “So we’re growing to keep up with them.”

A Good Problem to Have

Growth has been a challenge that comes with rewards for SCF. “We’ve had to expand our plant every year for the last five years,” explains Saulnier. “It’s a good problem to have. Business is good.”

Most of the expansions have been added to the freezing and storage areas of the facility. “We’re just increasing capacity,” Saulnier continues. “We’re freezing and storing more and more product every year.” During the winters of 2012 and 2013 the plant will be adding more space. SFC is doing most of the work in house, relying on a trusted subcontractor to install refrigeration equipment.

The company’s margins have been sufficient enough to expand with the business, but Saulnier says there are other challenges associated with growth that he and his staff are dealing with. “There’s really a shortage of workers and manpower in this area,” he explains. To compensate for the unavailability of personnel, SCF is bulking up automated processes. “It’s a little different than what you hear about with most businesses,” says Saulnier. “Automation is part of our expansion. We’re not reducing our workforce; we just can’t find anyone so we’ve turned to technology to fill the gap.”

The past few years have been very busy. Saulnier is actually looking forward to being able to slow down. When he’s not at work, he prefers to distress through activity, or, as he says chuckling, “Anything but this.”

No slowdown is in sight for the industry, though, and Saulnier predicts SCF will continue to grow monetarily and physically for a few more years. “Once we can stop expanding, I’d really like to take a breath,” he says. “And then we’ll move onto taking what we’ve done here and making it more efficient.

It is clear that SCF is well connected and well managed. Despite quickly encountering a period of extreme growth after only a year in the feed business, Saulnier and the team have managed to make it work. The company is expanding quickly, but sustainably, and Sea Crest Fisheries Ltd. will continue to provide competitive service and prices to regional mink farms.