Archive for March 2012

Whole Foods Move Can Only Benefit Responsible Aquaculture

March 31, 2012

Whole Foods Market‘s decision, announced yesterday, to stop selling red-listed seafood — if seriously and diligently executed — can only benefit responsible aquaculture operators.

Starting Earth Day, April 22,Whole Foods — the 500-pound gorilla of the natural/organic/sustainable/local retail food world — says it will no longer carry wild-caught seafood that is “red-rated,” a color code that indicates it is either overfished or caught in a way that harms other species. The ratings are determined by the Blue Ocean Institute, an advocacy group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

It has long irked me to see Whole Foods offering red-listed seafood, and if supermarket chain is serious about this latest move it will only up the ante for other retailers that wish to reach more-affluent, ecologically conscious consumers. In the short term, it should lead to rising prices for seafood that can be verified as sustainably sourced — “bad news” for those of us who want to buy responsibly, but higher prices create a greater incentive for new players to get into the sustainable supply chain and existing operators to become more fastidious in their practices.

Who will step up to seize this opportunity?

Want to Attract Venture Capital? Have an Exit Strategy

March 15, 2012

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of the World Aquaculture Society‘s Aquaculture America 2012 event in Last Vegas was the organizers’ inability to attract financial types to come and talk to the more business-focused sessions.  This doesn’t speak well for venture capital’s perspective of aquaculture (at least in North America) as an area rich with opportunity.

Dave Conley, one of the speakers at the “Creative Financing” session and founding partner of the Aquaculture Communications Group in Ottawa, Canada, at least was able to speak with someone in the venture capital world and bring back some VC wisdom to the session  — the most interesting of which to me was the question: Do you have an exit strategy?

This should be a more obvious consideration than it is, and I have to admit that I hadn’t really thought as much about it as I should have. You can spend an awful lot of time on a well-thought-out, clearly articulated business plan, but if your endgame is to pass a profitable business on to your children and grandchildren, why should VCs care? They are in the business of identifying undervalued enterprises, taking an ownership stake, making them successful, and selling them within a clearly defined timeframe.

This is not to say that creating a profitable, sustainable business is not a worthwhile goal — it is only to say that if that is your goal, pursuing venture capital is not going to be a good way to spend your time and energy.

“But where will I get financing?”

Your best approach might be to step back and study other, non-aquaculture entrepreneurial ventures that have been successful and learn what you can from them. Are you producing low-volume, high-value products for sale into a local or regional market? You might be able to steal some plays from successful small wineries or micro-breweries. Do you have a successful operation that you are looking to expand?  Perhaps you could explore partnering with your vendors or customers with an eye toward mutual benefit.

Maybe finding funding isn’t your real problem. Think about it.

My Takeaways From WAS Vegas

March 8, 2012

The World Aquaculture Society’s Aquaculture America 2012 event in Las Vegas last week was enlightening and strongly validates everything I’m trying to do with Aquaculture Means Business. I’ll be processing what I’ve learned in my next several posts, but here are my top-of-mind takeaways:

  1. From a scientific and technical perspective, aquaculture has no dearth of subject-matter experts. The average person in every event I attended has forgotten more than I will ever know, at least in terms of their own areas of specialization. Where the industry falls down is in its ability to aggregate and translate the knowledge locked in the heads of these experts and their organizations into actionable business intelligence.
  2. The $10 billion U.S. seafood trade deficit is not going to be eliminated or even reduced overnight, and progress will only begin when the technical and scientific knowledge that already exists is harnessed and integrated with genuine business intelligence. I’m not talking about sophisticated modeling and analytical methodologies – though these will be essential to long-term success; at this point, I’m talking about some basic business-planning practices: understanding your markets and your competition; identifying and solving customer problems, rather than cultivating a product and then looking for a market to sell it to; using technology, site selection, and creative partnerships to improve productivity and reduce costs.
  3. Despite its often-discussed challenges, North America represents enormous opportunities for aquaculture: major seafood markets; abundant feed resources; relatively cheap energy; strong financial and intellectual capital. As rising global energy and labor costs abroad level the playing field and burgeoning middle classes in Asia and Latin America increase demand for diverse, high-quality seafood, supplies will tighten further and prices will rise, making well-designed aquaculture projects a more compelling investment.
  4. Environmental concerns about aquaculture – many of them legitimate – are not insurmountable. Obstacles placed in the path of aquaculture development in North America – where greater health and safety regulations and transparency exist than in the developing world, where most of the planet’s farmed seafood originates – work against more sustainable approaches. The industry must do a better job of articulating its benefits and building broad consumer awareness of where our seafood comes from and why all farmed product is not created equal.

Over the next several posts I will drill down into these observations and share the insights I derived during the WAS event – mostly from conversations between sessions – and hope to hear your thoughts.


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