Fin tech? Austral scales up push for provenance
Austral Fisheries has gone blockchain as it seeks to provide customers with information about its products.
Sustainability and provenance are increasingly powerful elements exploited by premium food brands to differentiate themselves to ever more environmentally conscious consumers.
Seafood, however, is less prominent in this respect, perhaps driven by the structure of the industry, the nature of catching rather than growing, and in many cases the great distances to market.
Perth-based Austral Fisheries is one player trying to break that mould. It is not just an early adopter of branding its produce in the vein of other high-end food producers, it is also at the cutting edge of technology development to help consumers know exactly where their meal has come from and how it got there.
Austral’s Glacier 51 Toothfish brand is now a fixture at Nobu Perth, where it is specifically mentioned in the menu, as well as being supplied to high-end US venues such as its sister restaurant, Nobu Fifty Seven, in New York.
Branding the toothfish was a strategic move to highlight Austral’s practices and the sustainability of the fishery after news of Southern Ocean piracy and poaching led to consumer distrust in the species, threatening Austral’s assets and profitability.
“Provenance-branded seafood is all the buzz,” Austral CEO David Carter told Business News.
“We didn’t start it or claim we invented it, but we were very early.
“Once you have a brand on the menu you can have an extraordinary conversation with consumers.”
The company’s most recent focus to protect and enhance that brand has a futuristic edge.
Mr Carter said Austral was involved as a key player in a global test of blockchain technology for supply chain traceability being developed by global conservation NGO World Wildlife Fund and major management consulting group Boston Consulting Group to help consumers check the provenance of the food they eat.
Austral has an app that can scan a packaging code to show where and when the fish was caught, where it was processed, and its journey to a wholesale or retail outlet.
He said such information created trust that would improve brand loyalty, increase repeat business, and reduce the ‘transactional friction’ that comes with consumer doubt and hesitation.
Mr Carter said the move would not just lift Austral’s product above the pack, it would also help reduce the opportunity for product rip-offs that were occurring in markets such as China.
“We are recording each step,” Mr Carter said.
“Supplying that and potentially even getting paid for it is pretty sexy.”
Speaking to Business News at Nobu Perth, Mr Carter said the Glacier 51 brand launched five years ago came after years of activism by the company to improve sustainability of its operations in less public ways.
Mr Carter, who went to sea with Austral’s predecessor company in 1978, said an example was the Northern Prawn Fishery, which once had a fleet of 300 vessels in operation.
“When I got ‘shoreside’ I was trying to wind back that fleet,” he said.
“It was clearly uneconomic.
“It was only in 2007 we got it back to 52 boats.”
Austral’s adventurism in sustainability has more extreme variations than such a shift, which took years of lobbying and cajoling. For instance, it has collaborated with extreme environmental activist group Sea Shepherd to deter poaching in Patagonian toothfish areas around Heard Island, about 4,000 kilometres south-west of Western Australia.
That is quite a statement for a company half-owned by Japan’s Maruha Nichiro Corporation, one of the globe’s biggest seafood players.
Austral has also invested in carbon sequestration through forestry investments, an unusually land-based activity for a fishing company.