“This is aquaculture’s time. The time has come ”
“Are you looking at the stars?”
Although written by Geoff Matthews in a song about lost love, these lyrics also sum up the author’s vision for the aquaculture sector.
Better known within the sector as Mt Cook Alpine Salmon CEO, Matthews is driving a bold $20 million expansion plan he says will fuel a 1400 per cent production increase for the company within four years.
Considering Matthews has only been engaged in the sector for two years, they’re the sort of figures most industry stalwarts might scoff at.
But a broad and extremely successful resume adds hefty weight to his plans.
After a decade as private secretaryto Prime Minister Jim Bolger, Matthews left politics and went on to become an international branding guru. He founded the BrandCom marketing agency which has claimed two NZ Marketing Awards and was named a 2005 Deloitte/Unlimited Fast 50 Company. A former world ranked Ironman triathlete, Matthews proved his business nous indeveloping the original business model fortaxrefunds.co.nz.
Further demonstrating his versatility, he wrote the lyrics to a song for artist Jan Hellriegel, was the executive producer for her album ‘All Grown Up’ and helped her establish her own independent record label.
With a track record like that, it’s no wonder he’s looking to the stars with his plans for Mt Cook Salmon.
“This is aquaculture’s time. The time has come,” he said.
“Aquaculture is the future and if we can do it well and do it in a sustainable way, every major equity player in the world will be looking for holdings in the next decade – if they’re not there already.
“To make sure New Zealand doesn’t miss out we need to get a hurry on as an industry and understand the potential value we can be generating in future years.”
Matthews got his first taste of the sector in 2004 when NZTE brought in BrandCom to develop Mt Cook’s branding.
In 2009 he led a consortium that took over the operation.
“Five years ago, BrandCom had become quite successful and we decided from then on that we’d take equity positions in the best companies that came to us,” Matthews said.
“We first took a position in taxrefunds.co.nz.”
With Matthews on board, taxrefunds.co.nz processed over one million tax refund applications in its first seven months.
“My business partners said ‘what next?’,” he said.
“At that time I had my choice of anything in the world, but there was only one thing I wanted to do, and that was Mount Cook Salmon.
“It’s the finest product in the world.
“As a passionate New Zealander, I believe it’s what we should be doing.
“Using resources in an eco-sustainable way to produce some of the best products in the world and sell it at the very top end.
“That’s what we need to do as a country. It really pushed my buttons.”
When Matthews took over, Mt Cook was producing 160 tonnes per year.
This year it will produce 400 tonnes.
And with a $20 million expansion, including a processing factory and a value-added plant, Mathews says they will be turning out 1000 tonnes in 2012 and 2000 tones in 2013.
“We’ve already sold all the fish we can growin two years’ time,” he said.
But with so little farming experience, how does Matthews plan to pull it off?
“There’s two things – the first is that what we’re doing is quite unique. We brought worldclass skills together and we’re leading the way, I think others will follow.
“One of the things new players bring is they’re not constrained by what we did last year, or what we did five years ago.
“We’re forward looking.
“We understand value in five years’ time.
“History is not the most important thing.”
For Matthews, the most important things are branding and positioning of the product.
“We don’t have to follow the rest of the world – we can create our own demand,” he said.
“Mt Cook’s salmon are miles different. If you laid them open in fillets, even an untrained eye could pick them out from any other salmon in the world.
“They’re almost a different species.
“It’s the cold alpine water, but also the fact they have to swim against a 5km/hour current.
“These guys are the super athletes of the salmon world.
“They are smaller and always will be smaller.
“I liken it to sweet peas in the pod. You eat them while they’re sweetest – you don’t wait until they’re big and woody.
“We’ve carved out a unique niche for ourselves.”
And to help hammer home their advantage, Matthews has recruited his former mentor Jim Bolger to Chair Mt Cook’s Board.
“Jim’s appointment is significant,” he said.
“We’ve got a very rapid expansion under way.
“He’s been chairman of Kiwibank since it started.
“He’s got all the political skills and history to help us chart a course of where we want to go, and it’s also a signal to our shareholders and customers that we’re really serious about this business.
“I believe the whole industry should welcome his interest in Aquaculture.”