WeAreAquaculture interviewed Christo du Plessis, the CEO of Icelandic company Matorka, at the Seafood Expo Global event recently held in Barcelona. An interview in which we discovered more about the professional experience of Matorka's CEO, from his beginnings in South Africa to his latest role in Iceland.
Matorka distinguishes itself from other seafood companies with its unique approach: its meticulous efforts to maintain a harmonious relationship with nature and foster a strong team dynamic, right down to its product: its Arctic char.
Every road has a beginning, and WeAreAquaculture asked du Plessis about his first steps in South Africa and what it was like to move to Europe, considering that he has already worked in a couple of companies on The Old Continent. Regarding this, du Plessis explained that there is not much difference. "South Africa has a very advanced corporate culture and large enterprises, including aquaculture. For me, the difference is the type of challenges to face". WeAreAquaculture asked him more in-depth about those challenges that make the differences in the way of working, and he explained that these are between work and automation. "In South Africa, you are far removed from leading aquaculture countries in Europe. You have a lot of affordable labor, but automation is expensive because everything gets imported from Europe. Typically, you can address problems with labor, whereas in Europe, it is all about automation."
During discussions about his international changes, it was inevitable to inquire about du Plessis' decision to venture to Iceland, specifically to Matorka. Why did he move more than 11,000 kilometers away?
Iceland has characteristics that make land-based aquaculture a natural source of development for the country, du Plessis explained: a large amount of land, long-term contracts for resources such as electricity, quality and quantity of naturally heated and filtered water and a lot of human potential. However, for du Plessis, one of the most endearing aspects of the country is the warmth of the people.
Iceland is a much smaller country than South Africa, about 360,000 inhabitants, but the feeling is of living with a big family, he told us. "In South Africa, everybody's far apart. It's a big country and there are massive distances between the different towns". He also gave us an example so that we would be able to imagine the reality that we could find nothing, no towns, no houses, and no people driving for 50 kilometers – a marked contrast with Europe, du Plessis explained.
"Iceland feels like a big, small town. The people know each other. When we have business meetings you put all the connections together immediately," he says, such as your children going to the same school or your families living in the same area than you.
This different and close-knit concept also carries over to the way aquaculture is done in Iceland. Specifically, du Plessis details with a smile, in the way teamwork is done instead of mere coworkers. "There is a real team feeling, you know and feel like a part of the company, not just an employee of Matorka."
At this point, it was clear that Matorka had a particular philosophy, but it doesn't matter just how different you are to be successful… or does it? WeAreAquaculture asked du Plessis about his company's main difference from competitors.
"We are located in the world's most magical place." Du Plessis highlighted the reasons behind his choice of location, not only due to optimal aquaculture conditions, dedicated workers, and an excellent reputation but also because of the pristine air and water quality and ample land at Matorka. Matorka's facilities are in Grindavik, with crystal clear groundwater and natural filtration by way of 200,000-year-old lava beds, and geothermal energy heats this water to a constant 10-12º temperatures.
"That's about the sustainability story and what Iceland has to offer. Not only is all our energy from the geothermal origin but our farm is also designed so that we use very little electricity. We have water that is naturally filtered by lava and heated by geothermal heat from the ground, so we don't need to filter or heat the water that we use in the farm. We pump it straight into the tanks and then we use gravity to cascade and re-use it." These features explain why Iceland is unique and how Matorka makes use of them. "I really think it's the best place in the world to undertake land-based farming and that's why I moved. I had no hesitation when I saw the opportunity, I went ahead."
Undoubtedly a part of the transmission of a message is what we perceive. That is why Matorka has had a branding makeover, with which to show its new purposes at the same time as telling its story.
"In the new branding we launched we have put a lot of thought into it because we want to use our brand at the forefront of our marketing efforts." Furthermore, du Plessis explained that there is no other dedicated Arctic char brand. Instead, Matorka wants to make crystal clear that their dedication is to Arctic char only, and their story also highlights its Icelandic heritage.
"The finest Arctic char is our single focus. It is all we do. That is all we think about day and night. The whole team of 40 people. They love to put forward the best Arctic char for customers. That is what it is all about," he says: a single focus for their singular product result.
"What we want to do now is to tell the world about this arctic fish and also tell the beautiful story of how it's produced in harmony with nature, how we use nature's bounty in Iceland to produce the world's finest Arctic char in the world's most magical location."
Matorka told us at their booth at Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona that the company wanted more. Among the upcoming challenges is to grow their markets in North America and Europe because they believe in their brand and know that it has the necessary characteristics to go far.
"We want to build trust among customers, and we are able to do it. Because the main aspect in creating a trusted B2B seafood brand is consistent supply, consistent quality, and a stable price." This is a phrase du Plessis said confidently and assuredly, but it's not simple; however, the CEO knows what he is talking about.
"Our business characteristics allow that because we are land-based, we know the cost, harvest 52 weeks a year and we have fantastic elements in the farm." With that, Du Plessis explained that knowing the costs and having a high rate of biomass, means the hard work of reliability for the customers is achieved. "We do not have a salmon price that goes up and down. Arctic char is not a commodity. We can set the price and keep it stable, so people know. If there is an increase they get 2-3 months' notice, not waking up and finding out what the price is today. That's very bad for restaurants and for retail. So, I think there are fantastic opportunities."
The CEO also explained that he was very clear about communication with customers and that their motto is transparency and long-term commitment. "I want the buyers to come to Iceland and visit the farm. I want them to see the eggs and the juveniles, the boreholes and geothermal power plant, to see our own processing plant; and how the product finally is put in the box; even the way it travels to their shop or retail outlet."
Certainly one of the most important variables in the market is stability, especially in times marked by changes and inflation.
Finally, du Plessis talked about Matorka's expansion plans and strategy. He explained that another objective of the participation in Barcelona was to meet with potential investors as they plan to double in size to 6.000 tons of production per year. "Now it is time to also look for some new investors. Moreover, we are looking not only in Iceland, but beyond Norway and further afield, and see who is interested in our particular business case."
Matorka is an Icelandic company engaged in responsible land-based aquaculture production since 2010. It has an installed capacity to produce 3.000 tons per year of the finest Arctic char for discerning global seafood customers.