When you think of salmon production, I doubt you picture Sheffield. But 50% of all salmon served in Europe has a link to the South Yorkshire city, Benchmark Holdings.
Benchmark is biotech business working in the aquaculture industry, a young industry with a lot of “runway ahead of it to develop”, according to Trond Williksen, CEO of Benchmark.
That might seem an obvious thing for the man who is at the head of a company that is working within that industry to say, but equally perhaps explains the firm’s actions over the last 12 months.
Over the last year under the stewardship of executive chairman Peter George and then Williksen – who was appointed in June 2020 – the firm has undertaken a programme aimed at refocusing its work in the sector. Resulting in what the CEO describes as “three core business areas with very relevant value propositions” to the sector.
Speaking during an interview with Mole Valley Asset Management – which runs the Yorkshire T20 Portfolio that only invests in 20 listed companies based in Yorkshire, of which Benchmark is one – the Norwegian boss explained that part of the streamlining of the last 12 months was to ensure the business focused on the “main sustainability challenges of the industry”.
Williksen explains that the firm’s work – which includes genetics, advanced nutrition and health – combines to support the sustainability of the fish markets. To use the example of the salmon industry this means providing salmon eggs with Benchmark genetics that help “drive yield but also protect against diseases”.
However, its work is not limited to salmon, the firm is working on similar initiatives within the shrimp and tilapia industries and its advanced nutrition is also used in the Sea Bass sector around the Mediterranean.
So how has this South Yorkshire headquartered business managed to gain around 50% of the genetics market for salmon? The answer appears to be three fold for Williksen, one is the firm’s tradition and core guiding principal of sustainability. He explains that the firm’s founders two decades ago set up the company to develop sustainability in the industry and it remains a central part of the business today. Secondly it’s Benchmark’s renewed focus on the key areas of work – having either sold or exited a number of business over the last year, and lastly it comes down to what the experienced executive refers to as its “global footprint”.
The business, although still headquartered in Sheffield, has been global in its positioning. He explains that the majority of the company’s health business is operated out of the UK. For genetics operations its main office is in Norway but with additional activity in Iceland, Chile, the USA and Colombia. While the advanced nutrition work is mainly based in Belgium but with factories in Thailand and the USA and activity around the Sea Bass markets in the Mediterranean.
But with 50% of the market already in salmon what’s the next fish in the sea for the business?
Williksen explains it’s CleanTreat, the firm’s latest product which is expected to launch in calendar year 2021 and have a “transformational” impact on the industry. The product, a new solution for treating sea lice in Salmon – a problem that has plagued the salmon industry for years – but that doesn’t have any of the harmful impacts that other methods can.
“The industry has been looking for a solution like [CleanTreat] for years – I know this as I’ve been in this industry most of my life”, he explains. However he also proudly highlights that the treatment has been designed in such a way as to ensure none of the medication used to treat the sea lice escapes into the ocean
In terms of what this new product means for the future of the business, he adds that it will support the firm’s ambition to be sustainable and profitable. While in the long term Williksen thinks that coupled with the firms position within this “young industry” and its core areas of work it will enable the Yorkshire firm to “grow significantly over the years to come”