Bristol Seafood survived the collapse of the region’s groundfish stocks in the 1990s by importing frozen fish from Europe. The strategy has worked so well that the company, located on the Portland waterfront, is planning to open a second facility this year so it can compete on the national level.
The expansion is being funded by a “substantial” amount of money provided by a new investor, David Roux, a Maine native who has made his fortune investing in technology companies around the globe.
The investment makes sense because fish consumption in the United States is on the rise, said Roux, 57, who lives in Virgina and has a vacation home in Harpswell.
In an industry where some players are “fast and loose” when it comes to accurately labeling and sourcing their products, Bristol Seafood stands out for its high integrity and its commitment to producing a premium product while supporting sustainable fishery practices, Roux said in a telephone interview.
“I really like this management team,” he said.
The expansion will allow the company to separate its fish and scallop processing operations into separate facilities and allow it to significantly boost its production capacity, said Darrell Pardy, 55, Bristol Seafood’s CEO. He said the company, which employs 75 people and ships about 8 million pounds of product annually, is running is out of space at its 30,000-square-foot facility on the Portland Fish Pier.
Since the deal with Roux closed a month ago, he’s been so excited about planning for the company’s expansion that he’s been waking up at 3 a.m. to contemplate how to best invest the money.
“I am just loving it,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity to dream big and do some really cool things.”
Neither Roux nor Pardy would say how much Roux has invested in the company. Roux is now on the board of directors, and co-founder Ray Swenton remains as the board’s chairman.
Pardy said Bristol Seafood processes a third of the hook-caught Norwegian haddock imported into the United States. It also processes cod, and is the largest processor of scallops north of New Bedford, Mass. The company also buys fresh fish from the Portland Fish Exchange.
Rather than building a whole new facility, Pardy said, he would rather expand into an existing building in the Portland area. He is looking for a building about the same size as the current facility, and proximity is a plus.
The goal is to move half of the company’s high-end production equipment to the new plant. Whether that will be the equipment for scallops or fin fish will depend on the configuration of the new facility, he said.
The move is critical because there is no room to expand production in the current plant on the Fish Pier, he said.
“We are bursting at the seams,” he said.
Pardy and Swenton started Bristol Seafood in 1992 after buying the plant from its previous owner, Abba North America, a Swedish company that had built the facility it 1986.
Six months after closing the deal, the Canadian government closed the Newfoundland cod fishery and imposed dramatic cuts on the fishery. Similar measures were being proposed and carried out in the Gulf of Maine as well.
Faced with the possibility of going out of business if it couldn’t replace the supply of fish, the company built on its Abba connections and began importing frozen haddock from Norway.
He said haddock caught with hooks don’t bruise like the fish caught in nets, the practice in North America.
The company today does $40 million in sales. Eimskip, the Icelandic steamship line that made Portland its only port of call in the United States last spring, delivers the haddock to Portland. The cod comes from Alaska, while the scallops come from fisheries from around the world.
The company survived enormous changes in the seafood industry and is now poised for growth, said Tom Valleau, former port director for the City of Portland. Despite the sharp downturn in local fish supply, he said, Bristol kept its production lines rolling and developed a strong customer base in the Northeast.
While it’s sad to see imported fish replace locally caught fish, it’s critical that processors like Bristol Seafood survive so the infrastructure remains intact when fish stocks in the Gulf of Maine rebound, said Bert Jongerden, general manager of the city-owned Portland Fish Exchange.
“Hopefully, the fresh will replace the frozen again,” he said.
Roux graduated from Lewiston High School in 1974 and went on to earn degrees from Harvard Business School and King’s College at Cambridge University in England. He is co-founder and senior director of Silver Lake Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in global technology investment and manages more than $20 billion in assets.
He said he’s putting his own money into Bristol Seafood because Silver Lake doesn’t invest in companies outside the technology sector. He said he spends a lot of time in Maine because he has friends and family here. For the past two years, he been looking for the right company to invest in because he sees a lot of potential in Maine.
“I have a view that there are underappreciated assets in the state that with capital and the right encouragement could be a growing businesses,” he said.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:t