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In 1976, Clearwater Seafoods was co-founded by brothers-in-law John Risley and Colin MacDonald in Bedford, Nova Scotia. They started selling Atlantic lobsters from their “Clearwater Lobster Pound” in a converted garage, and via deliveries to restaurants and stores from their only pickup truck

Thanks to the founders’ business acumen and hard work, Clearwater Seafoods has grown by leaps and bounds. Today, led by CEO Ian Smith and an internationally seasoned executive team, it is one of North America’s largest vertically integrated seafood companies, and the largest holder of shellfish licenses and quotas in Canada.

“We are globally recognized for our superior quality, food safety, diversity of species and reliable worldwide delivery of premium wild, eco-certified seafood,” said Jeff Duffin, Clearwater Seafoods’ Global Vice President of Marketing. “Our products include scallops, lobster, clams, coldwater shrimp and crab, with more than 81 million pounds sold to over 30 different countries in 2014.”

According to the Conference Board of Canada, Clearwater Seafoods has achieved a ‘Global Competitive Advantage’ (GCA) that is vital to succeeding in the world export market. As cited in the HSBC-commissioned Conference Board report ‘Selling to the World: The Keys to International Business Success’, Clearwater’s GCA comes from “the company’s ability to develop a niche market for high-quality seafood (protected by quota) by cultivating an international presence through education programs and strong logistical support.”

Exporting to the world market is certainly central to Clearwater Seafoods’ success: Over 85% of the company’s seafood sales occur outside Canada. Yet unlike many Canadian exporters, Clearwater Seafoods’ international sales are not primarily dependant on the U.S. market. Instead, “Clearwater’s business is split evenly between three major geographies across the globe,” said Duffin, “with approximately one third of sales taking place in Europe, North America and Asia respectively.”

The reason Clearwater Seafoods has become a truly global player has to do with the company’s attention to the varying tastes of world seafood lovers. They know that different areas of the globe prefer different kinds of seafood products – and they cater to these preferences in all the markets that Clearwater Seafoods serves. The company also never compromises on quality, because Clearwater’s managers understand just how important consistent seafood quality is for earning and maintaining customers’ trust.

The result? “Our exports have increased significantly over the years in our existing markets,” Duffin explained. “We have also experienced success in several new markets, including celebrating our first shipment of live lobster to the up-and-coming Brazilian market; expanding our value-added product reach to Australia; rolling-out a line of retail products targeting the emerging middle-class in China; and introducing Propeller Clams, a new clam species, to the sushi-hungry Asian market.”

That’s not all: Clearwater Seafoods tailors  its global sales efforts to the buying power of the world’s seafood-loving regions. “In particular, we target regions with growing middle classes, high discretionary spending and an increased desire for healthier protein options,” said Jeff Duffin.

This strategy has helped the company achieve “significant growth” in the Japanese market with increased clam and lobster sales for consumers, Kaiten sushi preparers/restaurants, and foodservice catering sectors. “We also continue to see strong growth and success in China as their emerging middle class continues to fuel discretionary spending and demand for foreign brands and products,” Duffin said.

Of course, having the right products for the world’s various markets is not enough: These products have to be promoted by competent sales staff who are sensitive to the specific tastes and cultural considerations of the consumers they are trying to reach. Clearwater Seafoods has such staff around the world; sales experts who cultivate long-term relationships with the food wholesales/retailers that they are selling to.

“Our channel mix in food service, retail and other food industries ensures a diverse community of customers,” said Duffin. “In addition, we have a diverse customer mix with no single customer representing more than 6% of total sales.” This last point prevents Clearwater Seafoods’ profitability being tied to the financial fortunes of a single large customer.

These canny sales efforts are bolstered by a corporate culture that supports ongoing R&D, and a commitment to actively pursuing sustainable seafood harvesting while the world’s seafood stocks are being overfished by other companies. “Since our founding in 1976, we’ve invested in science, people and technological innovation, as well as resource ownership and management to sustain and grow our seafood resource,” said Duffin. “This commitment has allowed Clearwater to remain a leader in the global seafood market and in sustainable seafood excellence.” It also provides Clearwater’s sales force with a environmentally positive marketing story: Their company doesn’t just offer high quality seafood, but does so in ways that eco-conscious consumers can feel good about.

Finally, Clearwater Seafoods keeps a close eye on changing world economics and trade regulations, in a bid “to focus on growing our business globally and look forward to exploring new opportunities,” Duffin said. “For example, the potential CETA free trade agreement between Canada and the EU would further open the door for us in Europe; and the CKFTA free trade agreement with Korea provides further access to one of Asia’s largest economies. We’re also working alongside our customers to further understand their needs and develop customized solutions for them.”

Put it altogether, and one can see what started as a two-person lobster operation has grown into a global seafood sales powerhouse. Clearwater’s sales results –$445 million in annual revenues – speak for themselves.

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