The fish was hauled to market in corfs behind Ole Mikkel Lerøen’s rowing boat from the island of Lerøy to the fish market in Bergen, a journey that could take between six and twelve hours, depending on prevailing winds and currents.
Over time, Ole Mikkel Lerøen’s operations gradually came to include retail sales in Bergen, the sale of live shellfish and a budding export business. In 1939, two of his employees, Hallvard Lerøy sr. and Elias Fjeldstad, established a wholesaler and seafood export company – Hallvard Lerøy AS. In time, the company invested in a facility where they could receive pelagic and white fish and carry out fish farming. Poor results and insufficient capitalisation in the late 1980s and early 1990s forced the company to close down its facility for receipt of fish and sell its shareholdings at that time in fish farming in order to safeguard their core operation: wholesale and exports. In 1994, the company carried out a last emergency share issue and started the process of re-establishing a healthy business. At that time, the company's equity was valued at NOK 20 million, prior to an issue worth NOK 5 million.
The potential for growth within fish farming in combination with increasing customer requirements necessitated a radical change in the Group's business concept and strategy. The new strategy was extremely capital intensive. Up to 1997, the Group had been a family-owned operation. In 1997, a private placing with financial investors was carried out for the first time. The purpose of the placing was to develop the Group throughout the entire value chain, and participate in the future consolidation of the fish farming industry. The initial step of what was to become a number of major investments within fish farming occurred in 1999, when the company acquired a minority interest in what was then Hydrotech- Gruppen AS. In the summer of 2001, Norskott Havbruk AS was founded with the sole purpose of acquiring Golden Sea Products, now Scottish Sea Farms Ltd. in the UK.
Access to capital and expertise
The Group was listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange in June 2002, providing access to the capital market for the Group and thereby strategic financial room to manoeuvre. Sufficient access to capital and expertise have been critical factors in the development of the Group from a wholesaler/seafood exporter to the current global and fully integrated seafood corporation.
At the turn of the new millennium, large parts of the fish farming industry were seriously undercapitalised and suffering from the impact of a short-term perspective and a lack of risk management. This was not compatible with the requirements placed on enterprises in the fish farming industry at that time. Lerøy Seafood Group had achieved a more solid position by August 2003, when they purchased Nye Midnor AS as it was then called – the company that currently makes up the main share of Lerøy Midt AS. The Group went on to acquire Lerøy Aurora AS in 2005, Fossen AS and the remaining shares in Hydrotech-Gruppen AS in 2006, Lerøy Vest in 2007 via a business combination and a majority shareholding in Sjøtroll Havbruk AS in 2010. The acquisition and demerger of Villa Organic were conducted in 2014. The above-mentioned companies along with a number of minor acquisitions have, together with highly skilled local management, been developed via organic growth to form what is now one of the world's largest producers of Atlantic salmon and trout. The fish farming segment employed 1,419 persons at the end of 2017 in Norway.
Over time the Group has made substantial invest History «Lerøy’s seafood enterprise was born at the fish market in Bergen at the end of the 19th century.» ments within the Processing segment (VAP). These investments in VAP (value-added processing) not only generate a wider product range and open the door to new markets, but also provide more room for manoeuvre in relation to the sale of own-produced salmon and trout. The Group made their ambitions clear in 2002 with the investment in fish-smoking capacity in Sweden (Lerøy Smøgen). In 2005, they went on to invest in a processing facility for white fish in Bulandet (Bulandet Fiskeindustri) in order to further expand their product range. In 2006, the Group expanded its high-value processing plant for trout and salmon on the island of Osterøy (Lerøy Fossen). The Group's acquisition of 50.1% of the shares in the Dutch seafood company Rode Beheer BV Group took place in 2012. The remaining 49.9% was acquired in 2016. The Group has subsequently gone on to expand capacity at all its existing plants. In April 2017, the Group started building Lerøy Seafood Center in Urk in the Netherlands, a factory focusing on automation, quality and food safety and producing smoked and freshly packaged products. This will be the most modern factory in Europe and will have the most innovative technological systems. The framework conditions for industrial development in Norway are increasingly unsatisfactory, however resulting in a trend whereby production is outsourced from Norway to countries with low production costs.
Reaching new markets
Despite this trend, Lerøy Seafood Group has invested heavily in Norway, most recently with the development and doubling in capacity of the plant on the island of Osterøy outside Bergen in 2014.
The VAP segment currently employs 494 persons, 167 of these in Norway. The Group's ambition to increase demand for seafood in the form of new products for new markets has constantly been the driving force behind the Group's investments in the Sales & Distribution segment. This segment not only sells its own production of salmon and trout, but also has a high level of sales activity in cooperation with third parties, ensuring a wide product range for the Group within seafood. In recent years, the Group has also made significant investments in processing facilities, in order to take part in leading the “revolution” within the distribution of fresh seafood. These investments have been made in what is known as “fish-cuts”, processing facilities where proximity to the customer is key. The distribution of fresh seafood requires quality throughout the entire organisation, flexibility, continuity in supply and a high level of service. Today, the Group has a number of fish-cuts throughout Europe, and Leroy Processing Spain can report an exciting development within ready meals and sushi. In addition to the company’s factory in Madrid, the Group completed a new factory in Barcelona in 2017 and a second new factory in Valencia, completed in February 2018. The Group currently sells seafood to more than 70 markets worldwide. The Sales & Distribution segment currently employs 975 persons, 412 of whom work in Norway.
With the development of the VAP and Sales & Distribution segments, an increasing overlap in operations emerged. The Group therefore decided to report both these operations as one segment from 2017: VAPS&D.
Innovator within seafood
Ever since its very foundation, the Group has taken a pioneering role within a number of areas in the Norwegian, and subsequently international, seafood industry. The main focus has always been on developing the markets for seafood. The Group has very frequently been the first to launch on new markets, or to commercialise new species of fish. One of the main goals for the Group is to be an innovator within seafood, and preferably in cooperation with the end customer. This is important not only within product development, but also in other areas such as the development of efficient logistics and distribution. This pioneering spirit is still very much alive in the Group.
2017 will go down as one of the most important years in the company's long history. With the acquisition of 100% of the shares in the trawler operator Havfisk ASA and 100% of the shares in Norway Seafoods AS (now renamed Lerøy Norway Seafoods AS) in the autumn of 2016, the Group has embarked on a new and exciting journey, resulting in the full integration of whitefish into the Group's well-established value chain in 2017.
Lerøy Seafood Group is now a fully integrated company, having achieved control of the entire value chain for a full range of seafood products – from the sea to the consumer. At the start of 2018, the seafood corporation Lerøy Seafood Group has a unique position for further growth and development.