Every second salmon in Europe originates from Benchmark Genetics
Many people working in the aquaculture industry, will have realised that Benchmark Genetics is a significant supplier of ova to Norwegian hatcheries. Still, the fact that the company also has extensive market shares in Europe is perhaps less well known. When Benchmark Genetics recently settled the status, they found that approximately every second salmon produced in Europe has its genetic imprint from Benchmark.
Synergies from the 2014 acquisitions
The group’s CEO, Trond Williksen, was one of those who was surprised by the figures:
‘When I took over as CEO of Benchmark in June this year, I knew Benchmark Genetics and its subsidiaries well, but I must say that I was very positively surprised by the strong market position we have in the European ova market.’
He says that it is beyond doubt that Benchmark made a strategically correct choice with the acquisitions of StofnFiskur and SalmoBreed in 2014. The two companies have complemented each other in production and genetics expertise. They have been able to extract synergies that Benchmark is now reaping the rewards of, both financially and strategically.
The opening of SalmoBreed Salten and biosecure production in Iceland attracts customers
The main success behind this growth is rooted in the opening of SalmoBreed Salten in 2019 and the high biosecurity status that the facilities in Iceland hold. Also, the strategic genetics collaborations with Salmar and Lerøy are significant for Benchmark. Geir Olav Melingen, who is Commercial Director of Benchmark Genetics, is clear that a customer-oriented production model in combination with good genetics and product quality has been strategically important for the company:
‘The ova customers in 2020 have different requirements than was the case only a few years ago. The smolt plants have become pure ‘factories’ where the production plans are based on optimal capacity utilisation. With post-smolts, it is possible to release fish into the sea even in the winter months, which places new demands on us as a supplier of eggs.’ Says Geir Olav.
The investment in SalmoBreed Salten, which holds broodstock on land, has contributed to a small revolution in the Norwegian ova market. Now we are no longer talking about ‘egg season’ because ova from the SalmoBreed strain has become available throughout the year, including summer and early autumn months.
Geir Olav Melingen, who is responsible for all sales of ova at Benchmark, emphasises that SalmoBreed Salten meets customers’ expectations of the egg supplier as the quality has proven to be high. The average ova size is around 5,000 eggs per litre.
Also, long-term collaborations on genetics with the significant players Lerøy and Salmar have contributed to raising Benchmark’s market shares in Europe. Geir Olav considers this a declaration of confidence to the company’s genetic competence:
‘The in-house expertise we have in technical genetic services from former Akvaforsk Genetics has undoubtedly contributed to why we were invited to form a joint venture with Salmar,’ he says.
Named supplier of the year in Scotland
One of the markets where the company has grown significantly in recent years is Scotland:
‘In September, we received recognition from the Scottish industry through receiving the award ‘Aquaculture Supplier of the Year’ to Stofnfiskur at this year’s Aquaculture UK Awards,’ says Geir Olav Melingen proudly.
Based on the fact that in 2019 Norwegian ova producers could not export to the UK due to the loss of ISA-free segments, StofnFiskur was nominated to this prestige prize.
‘At short notice, our team in Iceland expanded capacity so that the Scottish industry could get supplies of eggs. Thus, they avoided what could have been a supply crisis that would have affected the Scottish production in the following years,’ he says.
In the Faroe Islands, the bulk of the ova is delivered from Iceland
The Faroese producers are recognised all over the world for their excellent production results.
‘Today, we have a market share of around 90% of genetics for this archipelago, and we have good, long-standing relationships with the producers.’ Melingen continues.
The eggs that Benchmark sells to the Faroe Islands are produced in Iceland and appears to be very well adapted to post-smolt production and the local production conditions, ensuring excellent production results.
Ambitions for growth beyond Europe’s borders
Benchmark has expansion plans to grow further in the international ova market. Today, the company is a leading supplier to the rapidly growing land-based aquaculture segment and has signed long-term agreements corresponding to a potential of approximately 200,000 tonnes (HOG) annual production, and an ova requirement of roughly 100 million eggs.
In 2017, the company sent broodstock to Chile, and during the first quarter of 2021 will have locally produced ova available for the market.
Trond Williksen notes that the production model in Chile is built on the same principle as in Iceland and Norway, with land-based broodstock, year-round deliveries and a high standard of biosecurity. A separate laboratory has also been established for cryopreservation of milt in connection with the ova production. The lab is based on the same system as Benchmark already has implemented in Norway and Iceland.
‘Today, the Chilean farmers have limited choices for genetics, and they demand greater competition in the ova market,’ Williksen says.
‘When the first eggs are ready for delivery in Chile this spring, it marks a new and important milestone for Benchmark’s investment in the country. Completely in line with the group’s goal of being strongly positioned in all the geographically important salmon-producing areas in the world,’ he concludes.