Seafood chief talks Brexit and Stateside opportunity to US Ambassador

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 25 Mar 2019

Young’s Seafood chief executive Bill Showalter spoke Brexit and the level of American opportunity as he welcomed US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, to Ross House.

Grimsby’s leading employer’s readiness for leaving the EU was explained, so too the rapid growth of sales across the ‘pond’, with millions of dollars already being earned from major listings in Walmart and other retailers

On Brexit, Mr Showalter said: “I think we are the most prepared we can be. It has been a bit of a bumpy process, but the government has been helpful in a couple of respects. We will have the ability to import, the vast, vast majority of seafood consumed in the UK is not caught in British territorial waters, as is the eating habit of the British consumer. 

“It has been stated Iceland and Norway, two of our biggest supplying nations, can import tariff-free, and that will help. If we had to revert to World Trade Organisation rules right off the bat, our costs would have gone up and that would hit the profit we make. It would have been a challenge, and the UK grocery market is massively competitive, so the ability to recover from such inflationary moves is not straight forward. Our expectation from a cost perspective, is that a big chunk of what we would have expected, has been mitigated.”

Bill Showalter eyes up the spread as development chef Serge Nollent talks US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, through the different dishes in the US range, joined by Martin Vickers, second right, and Mike Hryckowian, general manager of Pelagia UK and Seafood Grimsby & Humber board member. 

He didn’t touch on labour, with work understood to be ongoing with citizenship applications for the many economic migrants, predominantly from Eastern Europe that work across the town’s vital sector. Future legislation for catch was on the agenda though, with Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers and Grimsby Fish Dock Enterprises chief executive Martyn Boyers listening intently.

“Of more interest now is what replaces the Common Fisheries Policy, which dictates all the quota, who can fish where and in what quantity,” Mr Showalter said. “It is a pretty complex piece of legislation and unpicking that and replacing it with something else is going to be a big and important task, and could have a significant impact on how we and the rest of the industry source product.

“I don’t think this is automatically negative, but it has got to be done with care and attention.”

MORE: US Ambassador to the UK on importance of seafood in a future trade deal

With explainers given on how it was felt the Cod Wars started the demise, before Europe compounded it, Mr Showalter, a fellow New York Stater, having worked much of his career with Heinz, said: “There is a sentiment in the community that it should be positive. Communities like this were decimated by the loss of the ability to fish in the way they have for the previous 50 to 75 years. There is optimism that what replaces the CFP can bring a better fishing future to communities like this. That’s the way we’ve got to look at it.”

On the great strides taken in the US, following initial footsteps of town rival and fellow cluster champion Seachill, Mr Showalter said: “We started exporting a year and a quarter ago, we did some research on the US market and found that the Young’s brand, the British heritage, the seafood history of Grimsby, really resonated and, that in frozen food, product quality had started to degrade. We had a real opportunity from a standing start for business in the US.”

Already hitting several millions of pounds of sales, there are plans to quadruple the level, with the ambassador encouraging quintupling.

It has been achieved through a partnership with The Fishin Company, one of the largest US-based seafood suppliers.

“The US is a really interesting experiment for us, and we have used some innovative approaches,” Mr Showalter told, explaining how a video blogging couple on YouTube had taste-tested, declaring it the best fish ever, in a post seen 24 million times. Feedback on social media was strong too, with quality shining through messages.

“It is far and away the biggest international market,” he said, outlining how China is also concentrating minds in Ross House.

“We are fortunate enough to have a brand that is transportable,” he added. 

Currently exports from the US, chiefly Alaskan pollock, outweigh the imported value-added range, but he told how he would be keen to do more, “if US pricing reached parity with pollock we buy from the Barents Sea.”

Going on the sample the range to clear delight, Mr Johnson said: “It is an amazing job you have done, you have morphed a new reality out of what the environment has given you,” he said.

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