Thursday, January 31, 2013

Torben Svejgaard, chief executive officer, BioMar Group

Born in 1955, Torben Svejgaard is chief executive officer of the BioMar Group, headquartered in Denmark. At 57 years he is an economist with close to 30 years’ experience in B2B businesses with the first 25 years in the food ingredient area. From 1985-1991 he was marketing assistant and marketing manager at Aarhus Olie - speciality vegetable oil products and soy protein concentrates.
Then from 1991-2008 he held different upper management positions within Danisco (now Dupont), a world leader in functional food ingredients plus biotech products for feed, biofuel and technical purposes.
From 2004-2008 member of Executive Committee, that is the top management team of the company. Since 2008, he has been Group CEO of BioMar, one the biggest fish feed producers with a turnover in excess of €1 billion in 2012.

This interview appeared in January February 2013 edition of International Aquafeed magazine

Will farming other species of fish follow the salmon example?

In my view, there is no doubt that fish farming will become more and more professionalised over the coming years. And it needs to if demand is to be met in a sustainable way as well as in a cost-efficient way.
You can see this happening for other species not just from a feeding point-of-view but also in farming. But it would be fair to say salmon is where there has been the greatest progress and where professional farming has been taken the furthermost. Let me add that this doesn’t mean that salmon is a superior fish!
Other species will follow but at different speeds and in different ways.
Tilapia in the USA for example, has developed two distinctive markets – a frozen market, primarily supplied by China, and a fresh market supplied mainly from Central plus the northern part of South America. As a result tilapia now has two different market prices and two sets of demands being placed on it.
With a further professionalism of fish framing demands to fish feed suppliers will also increase, and we feel in BioMar that we are well prepared for that.

Carp is a widely consumed fish species in China. Is carp likely to challenge fish species in western/developed countries?

I don’t think so. Based on my experiences from the food ingredient industry, people are conservative about their food products choices and I would be very surprised if carp, which is a quieter species than other, became a more commonly consumed fish in developed countries.
Would that decision have anything to do with a fish species being a herbivore or a carnivore?
Herbivores are by far the largest portion of fish species in the world while carnivores are in the minority. However, the future direction for demand will not be dependent on whether a fish species is herbivore or carnivore but whether the consumer likes the fish in question and to what extent we can develop a cost-effective production system for that species to meet growing demand.
Comparatively, we have many different species of fish being farmed today – when compared to chicken and pigs. There is a clear need to choose those species that can be grown in a cost-efficient way.

Does that mean fish has to be cheaper than chicken in the consumer’s eyes to increase demand?

While in some supermarkets you will find fish cheaper than chicken, the difficulty of the comparison is to understand the cost of protein ratio between the two protein sources. A relative price might mean something, but this is not a mathematical choice in the eyes of the consumer. The consumer - at least the ones with a certain income level - is not asking, “Should I feed my family on chicken or fish this evening?” and basing that choice on what the price comparison is.
While, chicken is also very efficient in converting feed into protein, fish is generally more efficient. With rising commodity and protein prices in our raw materials the relative cost advantage of fish over chicken will increase.
I think it’s important to understand that consumers do not based their buying decision on price alone despite the cost efficiency achieved in the production process greatly influencing the price of the end product. Most shoppers buy fish because of the virtues of fish in itself, not because it’s cheaper than chicken.

There is much discussion about achieving a production breakthrough one kg of fish protein from one kg of feed. Is this a fair objective or is reducing the use of fishmeal in diets a more critical issue?

Feed conversion is not about achieving 1:1, but about the retention of energy and protein by a fish species that gives it its efficiency. Assessment based on kg in and kg out is a little artificial.
On the question of fishmeal, the salmon industry, for example, is a net fish protein producer – we have reduced protein fishmeal in diets to between 10-15 percent down from 30 percent over time an extended period of time. However, that’s not the goal in itself. If we take responsibility-sourced fishmeal and fish oil then we can make an upgrade from other materials that would not have been sold as food products – otherwise these products would have been wasted. That’s a rational objective for our industry and we should try to demonstrate that to consumers.

There’s much talk about the challenge of feeding nine billion people on the planet by 2050. Will fish play a central role in meeting this challenge?

Fish will play a role in feeding the nine billion people by 2050. And this should be one of the roles of professional fish farming, but we must also realise that this is only possible, if the industry does it in a sustainable way both from a broad environmental point of view and from an economical point of view. If the industry does not make sufficient profit, the needed growth will not happen. But farming can contribute to saving the world. We all know our industry can do that.

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