JUST UNDER 10 YEARS IN OPERATION

Panama 2018 | AGRICULTURE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Chris Perry, CEO of Open Blue, on establishing the company, production capacity, and plans for the year to come.

Can you tell us about the evolution of Open Blue in Panama?

We have been operating here in Panama for almost 10 years. We are a mission-driven organization, with a core purpose of feeding current and future generations in harmony with the ocean. This is important because the global population on the planet continues to grow rapidly. When we think about food security and how we will feed ourselves, we will require new innovative ways to produce our protein. Open Blue has developed a new paradigm in agriculture. Our biggest differentiation point is that we are a truly open ocean offshore site. We are located 12km offshore, far away from sensitive nearshore ecosystems in a high-energy, pristine environment that is natural for the fish. Cobia is native to the waters here that we operate in, which is a critical component for us. Over these 10 years, we have had many challenges as well as accomplishments.

What are some of the main benefits of producing and consuming cobia?

Cobia is a marine white-fin fish and its unique attributes relate to nutrition, culinary applications and the rapid grow out cycle. It is high in omega-3 and is a dense, flavorful fish. Many people compare it to black cod and other premium species. There are not many fish with such a broad scope of versatility, which is why professional chefs and home cooks love it. It has the meatiness of a steak, is of high quality, and tastes great.

How much cobia do you produce per year?

We think about our production in terms of biomass harvested and processed; we processed about 1,200 tons in 2017 and will do 1,800 tons in 2018 and 3,700 tons in 2019. Our production cycle is 12-14 months. Another unique attribute is that we are able to get a target harvest size in about 12-14 months from egg to a harvest size of over 5kg. That is twice as fast as salmon, which is around 2.5 to three years.

Your exports amounted to USD11 million in 2017. What is the target for 2018 and to which markets?

For 2018, it will be roughly double that, between USD22 and 23 million. Our core markets currently are the Americas, including Panama, and Europe. In North America, we have a three-pillar approach. One is national accounts, which are big box retailers such as Publix for example and we recently completed a promotion with Bonefish Grill. Our national accounts will be the primary volume takers as we continue to expand our national footprint in North America. The other two channels we focus on are distributor partners who move the product into their customer base within their key areas and North American Asian markets. In Europe, where we are selling into Italy, UK, Germany, and Switzerland, our focus is across multiple channels in those respective markets, primarily focused on major retailers and food service customers.

How important is sustainability for Open Blue?

It is critical; when we think about sustainability within our environmental,social and government strategy, the environmental component is obviously critical to ensure we are working in harmony with the ocean and supporting the social environments that we work in. Another important area we are focused on related to sustainability and the ocean is our our feed and diet of the animal. . This includes a focus on animal welfare and delivering a diet that will provide our fish with their nutritional requirements. Our social focus is also critical to what we do, especially in the communities that we operate in. For many of these communities, we are the primary employer and have made significant direct investments in scholarship programs, drilling freshwater wells, and more.

What are your goals and priorities for 2018?

For 2018, we are at a critical inflection point as we move to profitability. We are still at a relatively early stage in our life cycle relative to the amount of volume we are producing. In 2018 we are focused on delivering that USD22-million figure as well as preparing for 2019. A great deal of what we are doing now is setting up for 2019 given our production cycles. We are excited about the many opportunities ahead.