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West Coast Fine Foods: Making a difference to the organized retailing of seafood

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. – one of India’s leading domestic distributors of fresh and frozen seafood, vegetables and vegetarian snacks (Frish brand) – has a presence across India’s leading retail outlets and is a supplier to hotels, restaurants and caterers. The company’s latest initiative in retail has been the launch and build-up of the , which brings international standards of fish retailing in India.

West Coast Fine Foods: Making a difference to the organized retailing of seafood
The WestCoast Group is one of India’s biggest, fully integrated seafood companies in the country

The WestCoast Group is one of India’s biggest, fully integrated seafood companies in the country. Under its premium flagship brand – which caters to the growing demand of high quality seafood – WestCoast Group exports probiotic farm-raised seafood to over 30 world markets, including the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa and other Asian countries. The company is also engaged in domestic trading and distribution of prawn feed and other aquaculture inputs required for farm cultivation of seafood.

Its products – prawns, tilapia and basa – sourced from its own farms, are hugely popular and have a strong customer base in India and abroad. The Cambay Tiger brand has a very strong presence in Modern Trade as well as General Trade stores across the country. Besides this, premium restaurants with a focus on quality seafood, such as Japanese restaurants serving sushi, are Cambay Tiger customers.

Cambay Tiger and its products have a presence in India in over 1,000 stores and in 50 plus cities, including leading retail outlets such as , , , , and .

“We are one of India’s leading domestic distributors of frozen and fresh seafood through our Omnichannel distribution network that covers retail, food service and recently, e-commerce,” says , Director–Brands & Distribution, West Coast Fine Foods (India) Pvt. Ltd.

The company, since its inception in 2008, has gone all out to tap people’s growing preference, especially in the metros, for buying their seafood requirements from modern retail outlets, compared to the traditional fish market. Consumers are slowly but surely gravitating towards seeking higher quality, hygiene and convenience in the matter of their food choices and WestCoast Group believes that it is perfectly poised to leverage this transition in consumer behavior.

Due to the growing demands of urban lifestyle, there is more acceptance for marinated, ready-to-cook format of foods today. There is a growing interest to try new ready-to-cook, marinated products such as Garlic Butter Prawns and Prawn Skewers, which offer convenience of cooking with very little skill or equipment. Then, there are consumers who want to try seafood but lack the knowledge of buying or cooking fish.

“To engage with these customers, we host cooking sessions with our experienced culinary team at the customers’ homes to help them get the best recipes,” says Gupta.

With over fishing becoming a problem in many countries, including India, WestCoast’s initiative in breeding farmed fish has a social element to it. The fish catch is reducing every year and sustainably farmed seafood is the need of the hour. In many parts of the world, consumers are already moving towards farmed fish, and the category is already attracting premiums abroad. Also, keeping in view such considerations as price fluctuation and a general inflation around sea catch, the move towards farmed seafood is inevitable and the trend is likely to grow stronger in the future.

Companies like WestCoast, which have developed a specialization in the category, stand to benefit immensely from the trend towards farmed fish. Cambay Tiger prawns are reared at the company’s farms in the Gulf of Khambat (Cambay).

In India, where about 98 percent of the existing seafood market is unorganized, WestCoast is enagaged in developing and organizing the market for seafood. As the Indian market is under-developed, WestCoast’s global market as a manufacturer is far larger with its export business being proportionately larger than the domestic business.

“We are developing the Indian market, which will take time. As of now, we are a retail-focused seafood brand with 75 percent of our domestic sales coming from retail. Food service is something that we do not prioritize but will gradually build this market as well,” avers Gupta.

Players like WestCoast Group see the Indian market scenario as a challenge as well as an opportunity to organise it and also create awareness about the health benefits of fish as an extremely healthy protein.

According to Gupta, “High quality protein is currently not affordable for a large part of the population and we see enough scope to increase its accessibility and make seafood more affordable. An urban customer would like to know the origin of the seafood she consumes, which is propelling the demand for farm-to-fork concept in fish, just like in chicken.”

Despite the imbalances in the market, the company is confident of the way it is evolving and believes that it is bang in the centre of the evolution in consumer buying psychology. “We are at the right time at the right place and very sure of filing the gaps in the market,” avers Gupta.

For one, the company understands the seafood business inside out and has succeeded in building trust and reputation for its brand. As part of its brand building and market development initiative, the company has launched Cambay Tiger Seafood Mart (CTSM) – India’s first live seafood marts in Mumbai and Delhi. CTSM product range comprises raw fish (exotic, local and shell fish) and ready to cook range of fishes (marinated and breaded). The new retailing venture is working well for the WestCoast Group and it plans to grow this venture into more cities in the future.

“Most sea-caught varieties’ prices fluctuate year round depending on catch. But we are able to supply consistently at similar prices year round, adding value to the organized retailing of seafood,” states Gupta.

West Coast Fine Foods: Making a difference to the organized retailing of seafoodShivam Gupta-Director –Brands & Distribution, West Coast Fine Foods (India) Pvt. Ltd., which operates the popular seafood brand Cambay Tiger, speaks about his company’s venture into seafood retailing with Cambay Tiger Seafood Mart and how it is filling the opportunities and gaps in the market with its innovative and organized retailing of seafood.

From being a manufacturer of seafoods, you have ventured into retailing? What was the idea behind setting up your own shops?

Seafood is such a delicate produce that has a reputation of being easily spoiled. We wanted to leverage our backward integration and the trust and reputation our brand enjoys to showcase how we believe seafood should be handled and sold. This has culminated into us opening our first Cambay Tiger Seafood Mart in Bandra, Mumbai in October 2015, followed by Lokhandwala (Mumbai) in 2016, Defence Colony, Delhi in 2017 and Airoli, Navi Mumbai in April 2018. CTSM is a boutique shop that gives a unique shopping experience of buying seafood. The ambience, design, display, and human resources encounter at the mart has been tailored to give customers a first-of-its-kind seafood buying experience in India.

What is the marketing positioning of your store?

We are positioning ourselves as seafood experts. We believe, we understand seafood really well. We understand how it should be handled, cooked and sold. Because of this, we wanted our stores to set the benchmark when it comes to seafood retailing. Hence we have a lot of marketing innovations to our credit such as a) We are among the pioneers to introduce the frozen concept in seafood. b) Our stores have live fish tanks for customers to come and choose their fish. c) We fly in Atlantic Salmon from Norway to ensure sushi quality fresh fish d) Our chefs visit customers’ homes to teach them how to make gourmet recipes e) We are the only ones in the industry doing Modified Atmospheric Packaging (MAP) for our products, which is a far superior technology and ensure freshness at the kitchen level.

What is the location strategy for your stores?

We prefer high density residential locations for our stores. We do our own survey and research in terms of demographics and communities, dietary patterns and income.

What is the investment needed for setting up a new store and how much time does it take for a store to break even?

We invest Rs 15-20 lakh for setting up a new store. There are additional expenses involved in the form of rent, manpower, product purchase, etc. It typically takes six months to one year for a store to break even.

What is the current state of seafood retailing in India and what market need and opportunities are you looking to fill?

Today in Indian metros, there is a paradigm shift in terms of people’s preference for buying their seafood requirement from modern retail outlets, compared to a traditional fish market. The shift is primarily due to quality, hygiene and convenience factors. Due to the growing demands of urban lifestyle, there is more acceptance for marinated or ready-to-cook foods. There is growing awareness about the health benefits of fish as an extremely healthy protein. An urban customer would like to know the origin of the seafood she consumes, which is propelling the demand for farm-to-fork concept in fish, just like in chicken.

We are at the right time at the right place and very confident of the way the market is evolving. We are filling the opportunities with our innovative and organized retailing of seafood.

What part of your business is on the retail side now and what is the current share of your retailing business to your overall turnover?

As a manufacturer, the global market for us is far larger than the Indian one. So our export business is proportionately larger than the domestic business. We are developing the Indian market, which will take time. As of now, we are a retail-focused seafood brand with 75 percent of our domestic sales coming from retail. Food service is something that we do not prioritize but are gradually building this market as well.

As a retailer, which are the best-selling products in your portfolio and what percentage do they contribute to the overall revenue?

Our farmed products such as prawns, tilapia and basa are currently gaining huge popularity with our customer base. These products work well as we are able to supply consistently at similar prices year round adding value to the customers’ life. These contribute to over 70% of our overall retail revenue. Most sea-caught varieties’ prices fluctuate year round depending on catch.

Cambay Tiger Seafood Mart offers live, chilled and frozen seafood. The range includes white prawns, Seer fish, Pomfret – black, silver, and Chinese, mud crabs, Sardines, Lady fish, silver Anchovies, Rawas, Mackerels, Rohu, Katla and Tilapia, along-with ready-to-cook products (marinated and breaded). The stores also sell Atlantic Salmon, flown all the way from Norway, which produces the world’s best quality Salmon.

Tell us about your plans and goals for the future as a seafood retailer?

WestCoast is gradually planning to expand its CTSM stores to other Indian metros such as Bengaluru, Kolkata and Chennai. Through these shops, we want to give our customers a true Cambay Tiger guarantee for their seafood. Our growth plan for Cambay Tiger Seafood Marts is to capitalize on the trends in shopping for seafood in modern retail markets. The hygiene, freshness, convenience and customer service in a modern retail set up is not usually achieved in a traditional fish market. Also, customers in a metros such as Mumbai, Pune or Delhi, prefer buying seafood from a health and fitness point of view (being the healthiest protein) and not on the taste factor alone. This whole packaging of fish around health can be communicated the best in a modern retail set up, which we do. Our vision is to be admired as the world’s leading seafood company, delivering delight to our customers, business partners and employees based on innovation, sustainability and social impact.