Reaching New Levels of Innovation
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
Having been under new ownership for the past five years, Dubai-based fish supplier, Seahorse Seafood has undergone a complete business transformation. By targeting international quality management and sustainability standards that further showcase the Company’s focus on quality, traceability and sustainability, Seahorse Seafood has set the benchmark for seafood business across the UAE.
Founded 25 years ago in an emerging Dubai, with the majority of sales consisting of locally-purchased fish, Seahorse Seafood’s transition into a supplier of retail, wholesale and HORECA products in all seven Emirates is a direct reflection of the region’s rise to prominence in the present day.
“The country changed and so did Seahorse. With the help of our first customers, the Company started as a few people trying to boost the availability of high quality seafood in the UAE, buying in the local fish market and importing small quantities from Europe; with two small vans transporting the products to our customers,” says Bas van Geldrop, Head of Sales and Marketing.
“The management still regularly tells the story of our first salmon promotion ever as the perfect example of regional change and salmon’s rise to becoming one of the Emirates’ bestsellers. The order was so big that the whole team – including the owners – were packing and icing the fish in the factory. The next day, the managers who had been helping to pack the fish had to attend a meeting with a big retailer while smelling of fish! But we always say, fresh fish has no smell, it’s the ocean,” he recalls.
With year-round operations today and a substantial fleet of vehicles at its disposal, Seahorse Seafood now offers the full in-house total service solution from its facility in Dubai. Split into six divisions – namely the sales and marketing of more than 350 products; operations at its facility including filleting, portioning and packaging the seafood; sourcing; accounts; logistics; and a quality department that adheres to extremely high standards – the Company is proud to declare that it still retains the same passion for seafood the Founders had a quarter of a century ago.
“What hasn’t changed over the years is that we are still the same passionate seafood-lovers trying to help people enjoy seafood, while working in close partnership with our customers and suppliers,” van Geldrop adds.
Availability, quality, affordability
Led by this continued passion for the trade, Seahorse Seafood operates a philosophy of openness and honesty with its suppliers, while also placing the utmost emphasis on availability, quality and affordability.“Keeping our fresh seafood available for everyone means being affordable. We sell tasty high quality fish in price ranges suitable for all incomes; reflecting the diversity of our country,” van Geldrop highlights.
“And we only sell fresh seafood, because fish has to be eaten fresh to have the best taste experience.”
Demonstrating its understanding of local market trends has also been an advantage for Seahorse Seafood, where it can impart industry expertise onto its customers and suppliers to help foster their growth. “For example, if a customer is asking for a product and we think this product will not sell, we will tell them. We are driven by long-term sustainable relationships with those who embrace our culture and business ideologies,” he further details.
This drive extends into Seahorse Seafood’s continuous improvement and innovation strategy, which has resulted in several product specification revisions and even entirely new products altogether.
“Innovating is the key to our success and we have placed particular focus in recent years on extending the shelf-life of our products and capitalising on the organic trend through a new range of branded products. It was with this in mind that we have recently introduced organic salmon and Norwegian fjord trout to our customers. Despite the initial sales challenges we believed in the product’s potential in the UAE. And we kept believing and communicating to our customers on the growth potential of both products, which have now become commonplace locally,” van Geldrop explains.
Supporting Seahorse Seafood’s innovation was a revolutionary packaging solution, offering extended shelf-life of between 7-10 days which ultimately, enabled the Company to export an even fresher product to the GCC. He summarises: “Our conveniently packed portions – in a tray or on a board with fixed weights available for different kinds of seafood – are not only affordable, with a RSP from 10AED to 50AED, but also means that the average consumer can purchase a week’s worth of seafood during just one shop. This convenience aspect is further compounded in our pre-portioned and filleted products, which make up 80 percent of the region’s market today.”
Seahorse Seafood has already started exporting its extended shelf-life products to the GCC, with many retailers and distributors showing interest in trialling the product range; some of which the Company met with at SEAFEX, a regional professional seafood show. “Differentiated by our exclusive supplier deals which focus on quality and sustainable sourcing, we have streamlined our supply chain to make sure we only deliver the best; sourcing from Vietnam, Holland, Scotland, Norway and, of course, the UAE,” van Geldrop emphasises.
Employing a team of multicultural people who replicate the same passion for working with seafood as its management team, Seahorse Seafood hopes to continue growing in line with the region’s economic aspirations.
“In three to five years we hope that we can say that we have changed the standards of seafood again – much like we did two decades ago – on our journey to continue raising the bar each year,” van Geldrop offers.
With seafood consumption touted to continue growing in line with health and sustainability trends as well as population growth, Seahorse Seafood strive to be at the forefront of new industry developments.
“Aquaculture is the future to answer the dietary demand for protein, but we must take care of the ocean to continue eating fish. Therefore, I am hoping that there will be more organic products and sustainable fish – certified by MSC and ASC – available across the region; with growth of pre-packed fish in particular really taking hold.
“All that’s needed is for our customers and consumers to become seafood-lovers just like all of us at Seahorse,” he concludes.