Shipping Australian sea treasures to Asia

For the seafood division of the Craig Mostyn Group, one of Australia’s leading food and agribusiness firms, the fastest growing pillar is the export of live southern rock lobster and abalone into the Chinese luxury wedding market.

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From the deep blue waters of Australia’s southern oceans, two of Craig Mostyn Group’s (CMG) luxury seafood exports are grown and reaped: the coveted southern rock lobster and world-renowned Jade Tiger Abalone. The thriving business, founded in Australia by Craig Mostyn in 1923, today also exports scallops, crab and other fresh and frozen seafood to the world.

In the six years that Mark Wray was Chief Financial Officer of CMG, turnover doubled for the seafood division, driven by his pursuit of local experts in China and strong marketing efforts. Today, Wray is the group’s Chief Executive Officer. He says the business now has annual seafood exports of more than 1,000 metric tonnes, distributed to Hong Kong, China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Middle East and the United States.

Wray believes seafood export success is about understanding your market and ensuring you have processes in place to enable freshness and consistent quality.

“The fishermen head out in wet weather gear on their big boats in wild seas,” he explains. “As soon as the boats come in, live seafood is packed right there at the port into foam cartons and onto planes bound directly for China’s Shanghai wet markets. Numerous sub-distributors also take them out to restaurants having wedding parties and other celebratory events. When export markets want to eat the product raw, such as sashimi, freshness is everything.”

Cherished seafood delicacies

CMG’s southern rock lobster is acknowledged the world over as a unique delicacy, renowned for its bright red colour, taste and excellent transportability. Its trademarked Jade Tiger Abalone has been exclusively bred for its sweet taste, medium texture and distinctive jade green shell.

Of China’s five sea treasures, CMG’s southern rock lobster and Jade Tiger Abalone are two of the most celebrated. The high-end wedding market in China revels in the presentation and enjoyment of these treasures as symbols of elegance and prosperity.

Export success for the business stems from not only having unique luxury products but also from hiring a dedicated team with intimate knowledge of business practices, language and culture in niche export markets – enabling them to build local market knowledge and distribution partnerships.

Tight supply chain control also ensures CMG’s Seafood Division can continue to deliver quality products from Australia in excellent condition onto wedding banquet tables in China. The business has taken steps to encourage Australian seafood farmers to work amicably to operate with contractual relationships for several years, guaranteeing supply at the front and back end.

“Longer term export success for CMG is about locking down boats, quotas and sales contracts over the long-term,” explains Wray. “You also need to understand China, where there are lots of people who have been in business for a long time. Understanding the local market is what we’re focusing on at the moment.”

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Changing tides of management

Exponential growth and change in any business requires a focused investment in talent. Today the management team is focused on injecting the business’ intrinsic entrepreneurial spirit, inherited from the founders of Craig Mostyn, into a renewed talent base for their export business. They have recently invested in a new breed of young talent, including ex Rio Tinto, Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Harvard graduates, with a breadth of export experience, local language skills and corporate knowledge in global markets.

Wray says CMG’s management structure emulates a collegiate culture that gives younger employees full accountability as well as the freedom to get things done.

“We have a new breed of people coming through, and it’s a renewal focus, regarding the employee team structure,” comments Wray. “For a diversified export business, you should employ at least 10 per cent of the team from corporate backgrounds, because they have sound knowledge of process and the business tools you need, as well as a corporate discipline.”

CMG’s relentless pursuit of local market knowledge, coupled with a desire to exhaust the China opportunity via genuine understanding, are the driving platforms for seeking talent.

“We need to do more, and are doing more, around the front end in China,” says Wray. “It’s about understanding end-user behaviour. For example, who are the five biggest wedding companies in Shanghai? We are hiring ex-Rio [Tinto] professionals who speak Chinese and we are already penetrating new cities in the wedding market.”

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Selling the seafood story

Packaging their multiple seafood brands to tell their brand story and steer the business into new export markets is the firm’s next focus area for long-term sales growth. The business is investing in brand experts and recently spent half a million dollars on marketing to fine tune the brand story and market products to different cultures.

In the age of disruption, consumers in China are increasingly using social media to recommend products they are using, such as WeChat with 806 million active accounts,1 and everyone in the supply chain is aware they need to be able to answer key consumer questions: Did you really produce this? Is it safe and good for you?

Looking forward, CMG aims to double its lobster and abalone exports through understanding the customer, ensuring consumers are aware of their seafood story and through operational and supply chain efficiency.

“It’s no secret – CMG wants growth,” says Wray. “We want to be Australia’s largest exporter of luxury seafood. We know the world wants our products – and CMG has the people, structures and processes in place to do it.”

This article was first published in Business View magazine (Issue 22).