Fillet out the middleman

Fish-X participant Serena Zipf is pursuing market development to put the seafood supply chain in the hands of her customers

Image of a whole Cobia fish

Cobia. Photo: Destintion Food

Cobia. Photo: Destintion Seafood

Building relationships directly with customers to offer them the freshest possible seafood is the latest enterprise challenge for Serena Zipf of Rocky Point Aquaculture.

As part of a family operation on the Logan River in southeast Queensland, the business produces Queensland groper and cobia, having turned to fin fish after White Spot Disease wiped out their prawn production in 2016.

Serena recognises the farm-to-customer concept is hardly new, but says efforts to establish direct supply chains in Australia have had limited success so far. There are two “chokes” in the process: the concentration of power in the existing supply chain, and Australia’s supply chain logistics.

She says getting it right would be “the ultimate disruptor” of current business models for fresh products such as seafood.

“Right now, because of the way the distribution system is set-up, somebody else decides what you eat, based on how much money they can make out of that product. Consequently a lot fish is imported because distributors can gain a higher margin on it.

“But a fresh-to-you distribution network puts control in the hands of the consumer in deciding if they want to support a particular fish farm, or region. It lends authenticity to a provenance movement and the food miles movement.”
Serena Ziph

Serena says buying direct also supports provenance because labelling laws in Australia do not require the hospitality industry to supply the county of origin, and customers may not always be getting what the think they’re paying for. (She is a strong supporter of the Country of Origin (CoOL) campaign currently underway.)

Distribution challenges

“We know at Rocky Point Aquaculture that we have a long shelf life for our fish – 16 days for groper and cobia. We can put it on a flight and get it to a specific location within 24 hours. The airfreight logistics already exist.”

But while this is feasible in theory, distributing to individual households becomes more complicated. Serena says larger companies are struggling with the same issue.

“The food and commercial technology is there, and we have a generation of tech savvy consumers; its just the supply chain needs to catch up. I’ve seen the customer-direct concept in Japan, where the supply chain is very sophisticated. They can get virtually any product from farm to the customer’s doorstep for about $10.

“By contrast, we simply don’t have the cold supply chain worked out in Australia yet, so this is quite a BHAG – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. The biggest challenge, of course, is the distances that need to be covered in Australia.”

It’s this BHAG that Serena took to a recent Fish-X hackathon – part of a Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) initiative to support innovators in fisheries sector, helping to refine ideas and business models.

Innovation community

She says the Fish-X event was an opportunity to see what other people had attempted in this space and to connect with others working on similar concepts. Spending a day together with other like-mind people resulted in a new marketing initiative with two other Fish-X participants, oyster producer Ewan McAsh and seafood provedore Umar Nguyen.

“Instead of knocking on restaurant doors in a particular region we invite chefs to an event where we showcase seafood – how it can be cooked, particularly if it’s a new, or underutilised species. Queensland groper, also known as giant groper, is really only known in Asian cuisine.”
Serana Zipf

Their first collaborative event was in the Hunter Valley, and with some tweaking, they’re planning to roll it out at other locations.

Serena says this is a very different way of doing business, when it comes to marketing new seafood products. It’s a concept that works for the new generation of chefs; the up-and-comers who are searching for food inspiration and new products and who are active on social media.

It opens new doors for fisheries innovators too; business with new products and new supply chain models. One of the most welcome changes she sees in the emerging generation of leaders in the seafood and hospitality sectors is their more open attitude to women in business.

She says it can be very difficult for innovators in general, but particularly for young women who are trying to do something different: “So having access to a community of support and to mentors is important.”

Recognising this, Serena is also an official mentor for participants in the FRDC’s National Seafood Industry Leadership Program, which has most recently included her fellow Fish-X participant Umar Nguyen.

Aquaculture evolves

Serena’s fresh-to-you business challenge is one she intends to keep working on as her family also continues to develop its cobia and groper aquaculture expertise, extending on three decades of experience as prawn farmers.

While there are differences between fish farming and prawn farming, the essential husbandry aspects of animal handling, behaviour, feeding and disease are fundamentally similar, she says.

“You still need to ensure that you cater to the needs of the animals you are growing and anticipate, where possible, what problems may be threatening in the future.

“Animals still need good-quality water and to be fed and checked every day to ensure their wellbeing. Once you develop a feel for what is normal for the species you are working with, the similarities between species become clearer”
Serena Zipf

While cobia and groper are emerging species in both aquaculture and in the marketplace, the versatility of the white-fleshed fish are already making an impact in the restaurant trade.

Groper on show

Rocky Point groper has become a special feature on the menu at the new restaurant, Donna Chang, which opened in Brisbane in July 2018. The restaurant is a new take on a traditional Chinese restaurant for the Ghanem Group, with diners able to select live fish from tanks.

Ghanem Group executive chef Jake Nicolson says the groper, with its beautiful bright yellow and black markings, is a wonderful choice for the new restaurant. “It’s a uniquely Queensland product, is sustainable and lends itself beautifully to the flavours of Chinese cuisine.”

The product is sold live to the restaurant and delivered daily at a size of about one kilogram. Jake says the fish, which has a fantastic layer of fat just beneath the skin, is cooked on a wood-fired, open grill.

“We wrap it in paperbark and flavour it using a blend of Australian desert limes, Chinese black tea, local ginger and soy.

“It will be the essential flavours of modern Chinese cuisine, beautifully highlighted by our unique Australian ingredients.”

Pictured: Queensland Groper. Photo: Richard Knuckey

FRDC Research Codes: 2011-724, 2014-242, 2017-103, 2017-165
Updated from an article originally published in the FRDC’s
FISH Magazine, Vol 26, No.1 March 2018

More information
Serena Zipf, 0417 750 433, szipf@rockypointaquaculture.com.au, www.facebook.com/rockypointaquaculture/, www.instagram.com/rockypointaquaculture/

Contact Fish-X fish-x.com.au

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