Nor­way’s new­est lux­ury ex­port to Asia may be its strangest yet.

Nor­way’s new­est lux­ury ex­port to Asia may be its strangest yet.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - HENRI VIIRALT

Named af­ter the lanky, tubu­lar veg­etable found in most re­gions around the world, sea cu­cum­bers are pe­cu­liar-look­ing crea­tures that cer­tainly won’t be win­ning any ti­tles based on their looks any­time soon.

What these sea dwellers lack in looks, how­ever, they more than make up in their chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal com­po­si­tion. In tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine alone, they are be­lieved to have heal­ing prop­er­ties and are com­monly used to treat a wide range of ail­ments, such as arthri­tis and even can­cer.

Sea cu­cum­bers also have a very healthy nu­tri­tional pro­file due to be­ing high in pro­tein and very low in fat. Eaten in China and other South­east Asian coun­tries as del­i­ca­cies for cen­turies, they are ap­pre­ci­ated for their soft tex­ture, di­etary and medic­i­nal prop­er­ties.

The cur­rent com­mer­cial ex­ploita­tion of sea cu­cum­bers, cou­pled with ris­ing de­mand from Asia, how­ever, leaves some in­dus­try ex­perts wor­ried, call­ing for more sus­tain­able sourc­ing, in or­der to avoid ex­tinc­tion of cer­tain species.

One of the com­pa­nies heed­ing this call is EIR of Nor­way, a pre­mium seafood and tech­nol­ogy startup based in Stavanger. It was founded dur­ing Ocean Space, an ac­cel­er­a­tor fo­cus­ing on the mar­itime in­dus­try, hosted by X2 Labs in Oc­to­ber 2017. It is now in the process of set­ting up an end-to-end value chain from the Nor­we­gian coast­line to Asian high-end clien­tele. The ini­tial prod­uct se­ries in aimed to serve the global USD 2.5 bil­lion mar­ket for sea cu­cum­ber, with strong growth ex­pected to come from other pre­mium seafood prod­ucts and digital ser­vices.

“There were over 250 ap­pli­cants that were vet­ted for the pro­gramme, with the aim of form­ing as di­verse teams as pos­si­ble. I per­son­ally didn’t go through the process as I had found out about it via Face­book. Equipped with noth­ing more than the time and date, I took my chances and showed up on the first day, ask­ing whether there was any chance to take part in this great op­por­tu­nity,“Ms Vicky Green Sa­muelsen, EIR of Nor­way’s CEO and founder rem­i­nisces.

The Brazil­ian/Texan CEO has ex­ten­sive lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence in lead­ing ma­jor cap­i­tal projects in the oil & gas in­dus­try. The rest of the found­ing team con­sists of Torgeir Hausken, Monireh Ataei, Chris­tianne Fenes, and Bjørn Be­jar Fjærli, each of them ad­ding vast in­ter­na­tional net­works and ex­pe­ri­ence from di­verse back­grounds in law, oil & gas, ge­ol­ogy and mar­itime.

“One of the things that X2 Labs re­ally fo­cused on was to seek unique mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties. At least on my team, no­body had joined the pro­gramme with this pre­con­ceived idea of a fan­tas­tic prod­uct, so we had to meet with a lot of dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries from off­shore wind to fish­eries and other mar­itime sec­tors,” Ms Green Sa­muelsen says.

Even­tu­ally, the team came across an ar­ti­cle by Mar­gareth Kjer­stad, a se­nior bioe­con­omy and value chains re­searcher in Nor­way, who claimed to have been re­ceiv­ing daily calls from China, who were look­ing to buy Nor­we­gian sea cu­cum­bers. The team called her up and con­firmed that this was in­deed still an op­por­tu­nity which no one thus far had tapped. Based on that phone call, the prod­uct-mar­ket fit had been made and EIR of Nor­way was con­cep­tu­alised.

“From that point on­wards, our main goal was to make sure we could lock down the en­tire value chain, from the fish­er­man all the way to the end cus­tomer. Af­ter a few it­er­a­tions of this, the pieces started to fall into place, and at the end of the ac­cel­er­a­tor we were able to pitch our idea to a panel of in­vestors, in or­der to raise the nec­es­sary cap­i­tal to es­tab­lish the com­pany and take it to mar­ket.”

The Nor­we­gian Seafood Coun­cil re­cently un­veiled its am­bi­tious plan to dra­mat­i­cally ramp up seafood ex­ports to China, ex­pect­ing the trade to be worth USD 1.45 bil­lion by 2025.

“The plan is based on Chi­nese con­sumers’ pref­er­ence for Nor­we­gian seafood, cou­pled with pro­jected growth in sec­ond- and third-tier cities in China,” said the Nor­we­gian Seafood Coun­cil’s di­rec­tor for the Chi­nese main­land and Hong Kong, Mr Sig­mund Bjørgo, at a news con­fer­ence in Beijing.

The coun­cil, which comes un­der the coun­try’s Min­istry of Trade, In­dus­try and Fish­eries, said it aims to in­crease the consumption of salmon, arc­tic cod and other com­mon species, but also to es­tab­lish a firm foothold in China for species in­clud­ing sea cu­cum­ber, blue mus­sels, mack­erel and cold wa­ter shrimp – many of which are cur­rently wait­ing for ap­proval on the new species im­port list be­tween China and Nor­way.

In the mean­time, EIR of Nor­way

is set­ting its sights on do­mes­tic sales in Nor­way un­til the end of the year, al­low­ing for more flex­i­bil­ity in lock­ing down the fi­nal prod­uct and test­ing the mar­ket with Asian tourist.

In 2019, the goal is to en­ter Asia, with the point of en­try be­ing Malaysia.

“This is pri­mar­ily be­cause we al­ready have a very strong net­work in place, with dis­tri­bu­tion part­ners that have worked with the Nor­we­gian Seafood Coun­cil for over eight years. At the end of 2019, we ex­pect to be ready to en­ter China. The lat­est ad­di­tion to our team is Mi­randa Jia, the act­ing CMO. She is Chi­nese-Nor­we­gian with more than 15 years of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence in help­ing in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies en­ter China. She is from Beijing and has a pre­ex­ist­ing dis­tri­bu­tion net­work in place.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ms Green Sa­muelsen, the do­mes­tic ap­petite for farmed sea cu­cum­ber in China alone hov­ers around 200,000 tons per year. She says that it’s com­mon prac­tice to sell by ori­gin rather than brand. The brand­ing ef­fort there­fore will be EIR’s unique sell­ing point, and they plan to ship all prod­ucts with a digital guar­an­tee of au­then­tic­ity in the form of a QR code, which can be scanned by the end-con­sumer to re­veal gran­u­lar de­tails, in­clud­ing what part of Nor­way it comes from, down to the fish­er­man who caught it.

With re­spect to digital trace­abil­ity of the prod­ucts, EIR of Nor­way is cur­rently in the process of col­lab­o­rat­ing with IT part­ners, to ex­plore dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies such as blockchain and their vi­a­bil­ity in set­ting up this plat­form.

“Once fin­ished, this stand­alone an­a­lyt­ics plat­form will give us in­sights into what in­for­ma­tion our clients are in­ter­ested in when they scan the prod­ucts. The idea is to in­clude other marine species Nor­way is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing com­mer­cially to gauge whether there is mar­ket in­ter­est in Asia. Lever­ag­ing pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics, we hope to de­ter­mine what our fu­ture prod­uct line up should look like.”

Nor­way's Min­is­ter of Fish­eries, H.E. Mr Per Sand­berg and Nor­way Con­nect's Gen­eral Man­ager for Malaysia, Ms Joanne Oo with a prod­uct sam­ple.

PHOTO: NOR­WAY CON­NECT/JOANNE OO

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