Pittman Seafoods has had its sights set on foreign territories for some time now. Neighbouring France is an extremely important market. Which is why Pittman Seafoods has a dedicated sales team for this region. The UHP lobster, Pittman’s flagship product, is extremely popular in France.
‘We know the French market inside-out. Although there is a great deal of competition in the frozen fish market, we are still able to stand out’, says Jérôme Mathieu, Sales Manager for France. ‘We are extremely flexible with respect to production and it’s no problem to switch between custom-sized fish cubes and steaks thanks to our fully automated sawing line in Zeebrugge. This is especially valued in the food service industry.’
ISN’T IT DIFFICULT TO GET A FOOTHOLD IN FRANCE AS A BELGIAN COMPANY?
Jérôme Mathieu: ‘It is to our advantage that we have a separate sales team for France. I am responsible for food service and industrial sales, Isabel Lein is in charge of retail sales and Jessie Vanlanduyt takes care of the back office. We all speak French and so there is no need for a middle-man. Our French clients appreciate that.’
Isabel Lein: ‘The main thing is we can deliver just as quickly as our French competitors. It’s just an hour to the French border from Zeebrugge. We agree delivery terms on a per-client basis. For many orders it’s possible to deliver in two days.’
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE FRENCH AND BELGIAN MARKETS?
Isabel Lein: ‘The difference is not that great. Cod and salmon are very popular there now, just as they are here. Alaska pollack is also in high demand.’
Jérôme Mathieu: ‘The French prefer boneless fish that is easy to prepare and much preferred by children.’
Isabel Lein: ‘Our UHP lobster is also doing very well indeed. The French love their shellfish. They consider our uncooked UHP lobster a high-quality, innovative product. Pre-cooked, deep-frozen lobster is valued much less in the high-end market. The launch at Picard Surgelés was a huge success. Now all the retailers want our UHP lobster. What’s more, the French do not see deep-frozen products as being inferior.’
WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU FACE IN FRANCE?
Jérôme Mathieu: ‘The economic situation is still unstable. Everyone wants the lowest price and that makes things very competitive. Thankfully, the French market is very big and we are able to gradually increase our market share. The thing is, it’s difficult for every unknown company, no matter which sector you’re in, to gain the trust of new customers. The French are quite patriotic, which means you have to work hard to gain that trust.
AND WHAT ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY? IS THAT SOMETHING THE FRENCH ARE CONCERNED ABOUT?
Jérôme Mathieu: ‘Less so than in Belgium, but we are noticing that many people in France are starting to take it into consideration. There was quite a stir around salmon late last year after a documentary was shown on French television. Since then, there has been a growing demand from consumers for quality assurance.’
Isabel Lein: ‘That’s something we’re also seeing in retail. Système U was one of the first retailers in France to pay significant attention to sustainability. They wanted to make the distinction and this was appreciated by consumers. Other retailers are now following their example and are increasingly opting for sustainable species of fish.’
WHAT IS YOUR AMBITION FOR THE FRENCH MARKET?
Jérôme Mathieu: ‘We really want to become a key player – both in the industry and food service sector as well as in retail. Our completely automated sawing line in Zeebrugge, our close contact with partners from all corners of the globe and our ability to offer own-label products are among our greatest advantages. We are working on increasing awareness of the Pittman Seafoods brand by attending expos and making personal visits. If things continue as expected, we hope to be able to open an office in France within the next two to three years.’
This year, Pittman Seafoods will again be present at the Private Label MDD expo, which takes place at the expo in Paris from 31 March to 1 April 2015.