Workers dressed from head to toe in white, wearing masks to cover their mouths and noses and with blue plastic aprons and gloves move quickly from production station to production station in the huge factory halls in Valencia. Beautifully sliced salmon, tuna and shrimp are efficiently draped over carefully weighed fingers of rice placed on white trays. Quick hands fill black trays with an assorted selection of nigiri or salmon sashimi before the trays continue on the conveyor belt to the packaging and transport stations.
Every single day, 65 employees at the new Lerøy plant in Valencia produce up to 60,000 delicious pieces of sushi for the Spanish people. 2019 was the first entire year of operations for the factory, where production started in the spring of 2018.
“The healthy cuisine from Asia is increasing in popularity on the Spanish market, and we have specialised in ready meals such as sushi. These products are becoming more and more popular with consumers in Spain,” explains Antonio Diez, CEO for Lerøy in Spain. He is in charge of four factories and a total of 429 employees in Spain, where the main activities are processing of fish and ready meals.
“Previously, we sold whole salmon and whitefish to Spain, and we have had a strong position on the Spanish market for many years. We wanted to gain a closer position to the market, and this required us to set up our own production in Spain. With local production, we can achieve the level of flexibility needed to supply processed seafood to the market. We opened sales and distribution in Spain in 2013, with our headquarters in Madrid,” explains Lina Larsen, Sales and Concept Manager in Spain.
Antonio Diez has his office in Madrid, where he is in charge of administration for Lerøy Processing Spain. In January 2013, he was the first – and at that time only – Lerøy employee in Spain, and can now look back on a busy and eventful period.
“I’ve had a number of exciting years setting up the facilities in Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante, in addition to the one in Madrid. Our factory in Valencia is the first that we have built based entirely on our own specifications. With this factory, we have focused on efficiency and sustainable energy systems, and we reuse energy to the greatest extent possible. However, the most important issues when producing ready meals are hygiene and food safety – and we have developed excellent routines in this field, which we are happy to share with the rest of the Lerøy Group,” he proudly confirms.
The factory in Valencia extended its product range in 2019:
“We set up a separate production line for gyoza last year. Gyoza are Japanese dumplings, and the new production line is completely new, modern, automated and extremely efficient. We have high expectations for this product and our production,” Antonio Diez confirms.
However, even though we have a number of machines to simplify production, our employees are still the heart and soul of our factories.
“Our employees play an extremely important role, obviously. Our goal is to make sure they want to work for Lerøy for many years to come. If we are to achieve this, we have to give them the space to develop and enjoy their work. We are now in the process of actively communicating the company’s core values, so that everyone at work is aware of what honest, open, responsible and creative mean,” explains the CEO.
In conversations with the employees, we hear words such as pride, responsibility and stability over and over again.
“For me, Lerøy is a company that allows its employees the potential to grow professionally. I feel valued as a person here, and not just as a number among all the employees,” says one of the staff at Valencia during a survey recently conducted by the Lerøy Group.
Another employee explained how Lerøy has helped increase his quality of life: “I feel flattered that a foreign company is investing in our local community and helping the people of Valencia dream about living a full life. It gives us faith that there are still good people in this world.”
A sea of blue This is the overwhelming impression on entering the premises of Lerøy Seafood Center in the Dutch fishing town of Urk. Everything is blue: the massive ventilation pipes in the ceiling, the conveyor belt, the robust concrete floor – even the employees’ workwear. And the main product, the pinky-orange salmon that is the basis for most of what happens here, really stands out against all that blue.
During 2019, just over 3000 tonnes of fish in the form of smoked salmon slices left the factory for destinations all over the world. Or as prepacked fresh fish for grocery stores in the local area. 2019 was the first full year of production for the factory, which opened in 2018, the fifth Lerøy factory in the Netherlands.
“We have the potential to increase production much more. This year, we expect to produce between 4000 and 5000 tonnes, but in the long term we could produce 15,000 tonnes a year here, doubling production in the Netherlands,” says Tjeerd Hoekstra, CEO of Rodé Vis, the subsidiary that runs the Dutch factories. He’s been with Rodé Vis for over 25 years and, in the same way as Norwegians are born with skis on their feet, people from Urk are born with fish scales. Hoekstra is no exception:
“The passion for fish and fish production has always been there, and both my father and grandfather worked in the industry. I started on the factory floor and I know the entire production process well, so the factory workers and I speak the same language. And I recognise the quality of the products when I’m on the factory floor – I don’t need to ask,” he points out. He talks us through his working day as an engaged CEO:
Built for the future
Not only is the business in the Netherlands large with its five factories, the new factory is also much larger than the current production volume requires:
“Lerøy Seafood Center has been built for the future,” emphasises Ivar Wulff, COO Sales and Distribution, from Lerøy’s head office in Bergen. He explains that the new factory is streamlined for optimally efficient production of smoked fish on the one side and prepacked fresh seafood on the other, quite literally.
“Yes, the premises are large with plenty of open space so we can easily change the production line and configuration. This is an investment in the future – it’s as simple as that.”
Stamsund. One of many postcard motifs from the “inside” of Lofoten, with the mountains plunging into the Vestfjord and a handful of holms and skerries encircling the old fishing village. Fishing has been the most important source of income here for generations, and the villagers have experienced both good times and bad. In 2016, Lerøy purchased Stamsund’s fish-processing business, and today the factory alone employs around 100 people. That’s equivalent to 10% of Stamsund’s population.
“There’s no doubt that the factory is important to Stamsund as a local community: it’s the cornerstone business in the village,” explains factory manager Steffen Andersen. In autumn 2018, Lerøy started up a project that has consolidated the business’s position and importance:
“We rebuilt the entire factory. The external walls are the same but everything inside is new or has been modernised. And in April 2019, we introduced a new dual-production system in the factory, with filleting on the one side and fishcake production on the other. This ensures year-round use of the facility, and is important for people working here,” Andersen emphasises.
Something completely new
The employees are trained to work at all stages of the production chain, so that they can rotate both internally on the production line and between filleting and processed fish.
“The idea behind this is twofold. Firstly, purely in terms of ergonomics, it’s good for the employees to be able to vary their working position. Secondly, we’re building a more robust workforce, making us more flexible and able to adjust production according to the supply of raw materials. Now that we have a more automated production system with new, modern machinery, we also require different skills from our employees. Previously, we had many manual operations, but now they need a greater understanding of machinery. It has been a challenging transition for many, but I feel we’re on the right track now,” says Andersen.
“It’s been fantastic to be able to invest in, build and create something completely new in the Lerøy context. After all, we haven’t been involved in this type of production before, so it’s been an exciting challenge for us. It’s brought us closer together too, at the same time as really giving us chance to show that we’re working in accordance with one of Lerøy’s core values: being creative.”