Sofrimar provides premium Irish seafood to the global market from raw material sourced and processed locally.
Lorcan Barden is a 50% shareholder and Director of the company. A qualified Certified Accountant (F.C.C.A) and recent MBA graduate, Lorcan joined Sofrimar in 1991. Lorcan has over twenty years experience in all aspects of fish processing and is responsible for finance, IT systems, human resources, administration for Sofrimar. Lorcan is the key account manager for a number of international clients in the Far East and France and is also a Director of Jade Ireland Seafood Ltd, a company set up by Sofrimar in partnership with three other Irish Seafood Companies to target the Chinese market.
Leslie Bates is also a 50% shareholder and Director of the company. Leslie joined Sofrimar in 1984 and worked closely with the original Managing Director, Patrick Le Guay, in the first ten years of his career. He joined the company as a general operative and now serves as Managing Director having held the positions of supervisor, production manager and general manager. Leslie has completed a Diploma in Management with the Grimsby Institute of Further & Higher Education. With nearly thirty years experience to his name, Leslie has unrivalled expertise in all aspects of fish and shellfish processing and technology.
Sofrimar Limited was originally set up In April 1979 by three French men as the Société France Irelande de Maree which gave rise to the acronym “Sofrimar”. The company began processing mainly whitefish but diversified into shellfish processing soon after commencement.
In the year 2000, Leslie Bates and Lorcan Barden acquired Sofrimar through a management buyout. The processing facility is situated in Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, a picturesque coastal area where the local economy is highly dependent on both the seafood and tourism sectors. Since acquiring Sofrimar, Leslie and Lorcan have focused on continually investing in the best available technology for the seafood sector. To this end two major capital investments projects have been completed in 2010 and 2012 with a total spend of €3 million, resulting in Sofrimar doubling its turnover and employee numbers over the past three years. Sofrimar currently employs 105 people with a further 200 people working on boats who supply shellfish and whitefish. Outsourced services, such as transport and maintenance, are all provided by local companies.
99% of Sofrimar’s sales are exports with a diverse range of products which can be supplied in an array of formats including fresh, frozen, cooked, pasteurised, live and modified atmospheric packaging (MAP). At present, over 90% of turnover is derived from shellfish sales. The product range includes, whelk meat (cooked and frozen), scallops (fresh, MAP and frozen), brown crab (fresh, cooked, pasteurised, MAP and frozen), crab claws (fresh, cooked, pasteurised, MAP and frozen), lobster (live), winkles (live, frozen, MAP and pasteurised) , prawns (frozen) razor clams (live and frozen) and some whitefish (sole, turbot, monkfish, ray, etc). With a strong focus on R&D, Sofrimar continues to look to product development to expand their offering to the market.
France is the main export country for Sofrimar which accounts for c.40% of turnover. Export sales to the Far East, and in particular South Korea amount to just 30% of total turnover. Other export markets include Italy, Spain, Portugal, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Holland, Singapore, Switzerland, Croatia and the UK. Along with product development, the company is continually engaged in market development focusing on the Far Eastern and Russian markets presently. To this end in 2012, Sofrimar established Jade Ireland Seafood Ltd in partnership with three Irish seafood companies, locating an office in Shanghai to offer full time representation. This company now supplies product from all four Irish companies under the brand name, Oceanjade, directly to the Chinese market. This co-opetition will enable significant scale to be achieved and will assist further product development and market penetration.
Sofrimar, while export focused, is constantly aware of the part it plays in the local economy through employment and associated spin offs. It is a keen contributor to local organisations. It has also played its part in boosting the local tourism infrastructure by donating a parcel of land to Wexford County Council for a viewing point offering panoramic views of Ballyteigue Bay. Sofrimar received the Seafood Exporter of the Year award in 2007 and again in 2011 and in 2012 was awarded the Rehab County Wexford, Business and Enterprise Award.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision prompted you to start-up your business?
While the company was already established when the current directors took over, it was our complimentary skill set which made us ideal candidates to move the company forward. Our vision was to use the best available technology to produce premium products for our customer base.
What were the best & worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
Pierre Dufour the previous owner, having worked in the French seafood industry for most of his adult life, offered excellent coaching and advice. He is still a pillar of strength for the company.
During the Celtic Tiger years, advice in relation to investments did not prove profitable.
How did you secure your first investment?
Through a bank loan.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
The collapse of the Korean whelk meat market offered huge obstacles to surmount. It was necessary to reduce dependence on one key product line while concurrently looking to market diversification to ensure sufficient demand.
What moment or deal would you identify as the “game changer” for the company?
Completing the first major Capital Investment Project in 2001 and realising the benefits of that investment.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
The business is reliant on a continual stock of raw material, required in consistent volumes, large enough to meet the targeted growth rates of the company. The very nature of the business makes this a constant challenge.
Competition from countries which operate from a very low cost base, such as Chile, China and Vietnam, is also testing.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
Despite the global economic difficulties the business has doubled its size in the past three years.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
An entrepreneur is a person who identifies a business opportunity and decides to take the risk in running with it. Believe in your product, listen to other business colleagues and hard work will get you over many of the obstacles.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
At a very young age Leslie showed entrepreneurial flair. One of his many profitable business projects involved raffling a box of chocolates.
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
Ireland is recognised as a clean and green country with a global reputation for the quality of its food products. The cleanliness of the waters surrounding our coast, particularly the Atlantic Ocean, enhances our seafood sector and associated end products.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Having established the required skill set, we look for characteristics that will enable the candidate to work with existing team members and within the culture of the organisation.