We met Vincent Erenst, the new CEO of The Kingfish Company, at their booth at the Seafood Expo Global 2023 in Barcelona. We spoke with him about the company’s prospects and also about his personal goals in his new position. With a long experience in aquaculture, he seems to be that “operationally minded CEO” his predecessor in the position thought the company needed for the direction it is taking at the moment. However, our interviewee cautiously states that he still has a lot to learn and understand. “I don’t want to pretend I understand everything yet”, he says, “I’m still in a learning phase”.
Impressed by the people
When Ohad Maiman, former CEO at the company, announced he was stepping down, he told us in an interview: “I think for the direction the company is heading now, you need an operationally minded CEO who spends more time looking at the details of the operation and profitability than growth and the next species and the next technologies”. Later, when Vincent Erenst was appointed, the Chairman of the Board said that his “impressive track record and experience” made him a strong choice to take the company to the next level of performance.
That career path and that experience go through companies and positions such as General Manager at Mowi Canada West, Director of Operations at Avramar, and later at Barramundi Group. Now, from his new position as CEO at The Kingfish Company, this aquaculture veteran’s first goal is to keep learning. “When you come to a new company and basically also semi-new technology for me, there’s a lot of things to learn and to understand, and I still don’t want to pretend I get it all, so, I’m still very much in a learning phase”.
Then, when we ask him to take stock of his first three months in office, the first thing he mentions is the people. “I’m happy with the people that work for Kingfish”, he says. “There is a group of people that have been there since day one, and they’re extremely experienced and very motivated. And then, there is a much larger group of recent employees, and they are very positive and motivated and knowledgeable also, surprisingly knowledgeable for the, sometimes, short time they work with. So very impressed”.
The dream product
But, if Vincent Erenst is happy and impressed by the people at The Kingfish Company, he is even more so with their product. “The best thing about our business is the fish itself, which sells tremendously well. That’s a dream almost”, he says. And he tells an illustrative anecdote: “When I was at the Boston Seafood Show, I felt like the prettiest girl in class. Everybody wanted to buy your fish. ‘Oh, how can we get it?’. I’ve never lived that”. Used to sell all the time, even with super-popular fish, like salmon, since he’s been at Kingfish people come up to him and ask, “When can you deliver?”
Still, he’s not out of touch with reality. They were at the Barcelona Expo to promote their product and meet existing and new customers. He is “very optimistic” about growth in volumes and how to place those in the market in the coming years, so yes, they wanted to tell the market that they are coming up with more volume later this year. “We like to find good homes for our fish”, he jokes.
“I think the future is pretty bright in terms of the species. I don’t know, don’t ask me how much you could sell, but it will increase a lot over the next years, demand will increase a lot”, the CEO of The Kingfish Company predicts. If he is right, and it looks like he is, meeting that demand will require increasing the volume of production not only this year but also in the years to come and doing so on both sides of the Atlantic.
Good core to build a larger business
This increase in production volume is precisely one of the “tasks” he has set himself for his new position. “There are two tasks”, he explains to WeAreAquaculture. “Operationally there are things to do”, Vincent Erenst continues. “There’s a lot of scope to do things better even than we do today. I can clearly see that and people in Kingfish also see that, but we got to work on it”. As he says, he’s in charge of driving the bus and pushing for it, but they have a whole program – they call it “farming excellence” – to get it
“Last year we harvested 1,500 tons. In the next couple of weeks, we will put fish into our expansion which will bring us to about 3,500 tons in Holland in 2025. So, next year we will see an increase in going from 1,500 to 2,500 – 3,000 tons, and the year after going to 3,500”. As he notes, the growth agenda is still “very much on”, but they can count on its two strengths: the people, a very motivated team that wants to see the company grow; and the product itself that, as said before, sells very well. “I think we have a very good core to build a much larger business over time”.
But The Kingfish Company has something more, it has the experience. “Kingfish has not built one large facility in one go, they build it in several steps, and they started cautiously. They have been very wise because they have learned a lot in every step, which then could be applied in the next step, and that’s still ongoing”, Erenst explains. “Everything we build hereafter will be a little bit smarter, a little bit better, and hopefully a little bit cheaper, than we’ve done before”. People have learned a lot about both, building and operating facilities, going through modest growth in the beginning, and “that is a real strength”.
Growth through two projects
Vincent Erenst talks about growing and, as he explains, they have two projects to get it. They have the Maine project, which has just got its first experimental harvest and is fully permitted but still faces an appeal in the courts, although he expects the courts to rule in their favor. They will be ready to start building next year, he says, though there is still a lot of work ahead. Also, they have to keep in mind that they are not in Europe, but in America. It is a pretty massive project. “We are licensed in principle to grow 8,500 tons there and build a facility that can do that. I think we would not do that in one go, we’d probably do it in two or three steps”, he claims.
And then is the project in Zeeland. The company has the possibility to build another 2,500 tons on the same property, and they are in the process of getting the construction license. Not so easy either, he says, but they hope that the whole license request also will be granted this year. “That would give us another big possibility for growth”, he says.
For the new CEO, it is “a very uplifting experience” to see how popular the yellowtail kingfish is. “Still unknown fish in a way, but a lot of people know about it, a lot of people are interested in it”, he claims. “I’m not saying it’s the next salmon, but definitely will be, I think, in the years to come, an item that you will see growing in volume in both European and American markets”.
About The Kingfish Company
The Kingfish Company is a pioneer and leader in sustainable land-based aquaculture whose main product is the yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi). Its production – where animal welfare is prioritized, and fish are raised without antibiotics or vaccines – is based on recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), which protect biodiversity and ensure biosecurity. In addition, the operations run on 100% renewable energy and seawater to avoid wasting fresh water. Its products are certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), and British Retail Consortium (BRC). They have operations in the Neederlands, Kingfish Zeeland, and the United States, Kingfish Maine.