Seafood exporter’s major switch to survive pandemic
A high-end seafood export company has had to rethink its business model in a bid to navigate the economic storm whipped up by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pavo and Heidi Walker, of Mooloolaba-based Walker Seafoods Australia, have transitioned from about 80 per cent of their business being top-end export product to about 80 per cent frozen product to service canneries.
The changes, which involved targeting lower-grade fish for canneries, coupled with Coles supermarket deals and a pop-up retail store, have helped steer the business through the troubled waters so far.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison dropped in on the business on Tuesday, where he spoke with Mr and Mrs Walker about the issues they were facing.
Mrs Walker, managing director of the company, said subsidised freight flights were a focus at the moment, in a bid to get their product into other markets.
Her husband, the CEO of the company, said streamlining visa processes for some of their staff would also be a significant help.
The duo said the American market was "very strong" at present with high demand for product, but their challenge was accessing the market, with only one flight a week into Los Angeles currently operating.
The company had transitioned to sea freight, shipping to canneries, while it also took advantage of freight flights into Japan.
Mr Walker said they had a real focus on lower-grade, freezer tuna now, which lasted up to six months and gave them the ability to supply without risk of losing a fresh catch if travel restrictions changed at the last minute.
He said it had made the business less reliant on flights, in a bid to insulate from the effects of coronavirus on air travel.
Mrs Walker said they'd been "very lucky" to be able to access supermarkets, and the result was that they'd been able to retain all of their staff, with 13 of their 50 crew currently on JobKeeper support.
The company had focused on high-grade, fresh catches of yellowfin and bigeye tuna and swordfish, exported rapidly into key markets like Japan.
Mr Walker said when business returned to normal and travel restrictions eased, they would focus again on the high-grade fish to supply lucrative sashimi markets, but hoped to expand their business by continuing the supermarket supply and pop-up retail offerings.
He said they would also look to invest in a new vessel to keep up with the expanded business.
Mr Morrison praised their efforts to survive the ongoing pandemic and look ahead at possible expansion opportunities in future.