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Ideal Food's pet treats

Meet the Cornish company exporting sustainable seafood worldwide

From humble beginnings in Liskeard, Ideal Foods has grown to become a global exporter of sustainable seafood. With its headquarters in Cornwall, this has been a key part of Ideal Foods’ identity for the past 25 years. But today, its reach is global. Find out more.

The family-run seafood supplier exports to over 40 countries and has satellite offices in Grimsby, Leighton Buzzard, The Philippines and China And as the company has grown, it’s kept a clear mission, focused on sustainability: to ensure every part of the fish is used – from fillets to by-products.

A pioneering, sustainable approach to seafood supply

25 years ago, Ideal Foods’ founder  and Managing Director Tony Horner saw an opportunity to minimise waste in the seafood industry. He realised that only the most desirable cuts from every fish were used– with the rest discarded as waste despite being perfectly usable.

So, Ideal Foods was born.

“We’re quite the pioneering company,” says Teresa Page, Executive PA to the Managing Director. “We were one of the first organisations to realise that the UK only uses certain fillets of fish. Historically, the rest was just being chucked away – and we wanted to change that. We realised that there were markets that would be interested in all the offcuts and by-products. So, we take all these less desirable products, including heads, bellies, fins, skins and frames, and find buyers for them all over the world.”

Working with key suppliers and processors like Mowi Consumer Products UK to source high-quality fish, Ideal Foods now provides sustainable seafood at every market level. Its best raw fish is sold to manufacturers in the highly-regulated European baby food industry, as well as finding their way to restaurants and supermarkets. Meanwhile, Ideal Foods uses by-products that aren’t fit for human consumption in its pet food brand, Purely Fish.

“We set up Purely Fish three years ago,” says Teresa. “All our pet treats are made locally in Redruth. We have a whole range of high-end treats, all 100% natural, with no additives and a high fish content.”

whitefish pet cubes
pet treats skin fish
smoked salmon offcut pet treats

The challenges of exporting seafood on a global scale

It quickly became clear to Ideal Foods that the demand for quality seafood by-products was widespread. For its first exports, the company identified demand in Asian markets, including The Philippines, China and Taiwan.

Along with The Netherlands, these markets are key buyers for Ideal Foods. And its reach has also grown considerably. Today, around 90% of its sales are overseas and rising. But knowing which countries are open to exports is a task that requires extensive research and expert insight.

“We work with our regional Department of International Trade (DIT) agents to kickstart our export research,” says Teresa. “We then complete OMAS reports, to fully understand the demand of a new market. After that, we do food trade shows to showcase our product and build the right relationships with distributors.”

mackerel and potato pet treats

“DIT has been a fantastic support and resource. We were even lucky enough to have Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, visit our offices last year. It was a great opportunity to ask her about new export challenges – including Brexit, which we’ve had to prepare for really carefully. Now, with any issues we have, we can directly access her office to get the answers we need.”

There’s also the challenge of handling claims and product issues remotely. For Ideal Foods, the answer to this was simple: setting up satellite offices in its biggest import hubs.

“The Philippines is such a popular market,” says Teresa. “But it was difficult for us to work out which claims were legitimate. So, having satellite offices seemed like a logical step – it ensures that if any of our customers have a product issue, we can do an inspection quickly, sort claims, and provide the best possible service.”

Reeling in new or promising markets

Now firmly established in several Asian markets, Ideal Foods is now looking to extend its reach in Japan and even develop new export opportunities in the Middle East – particularly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“Japan isn’t a new market for us, but we haven’t sold there recently,” says Teresa. “We were contacted by a member of DIT to take part in the virtual UK Pavilion of Foodex Japan. We only had a few weeks to pull it together, but it was a great opportunity for us. It helped us reignite some of our previous customers and even source some new leads.”

Along with the trade show in Japan, Ideal Foods is now working on a similar mission in the UAE, with support from Cornwall Trade and Investment (CTI). ploring the Middle East has been on our agenda for a while,” notes Teresa. “So, when our regional trade advisor flagged the opportunity to sell our products in the UAE, we jumped at it.”

salmon offcuts

“We’ve been working with Cornwall Trade and Investment to prepare for a virtual trade mission. It’s the first trade mission we’ve done with the organisation, but the two-day workshop and the speakers they provided have been so helpful. It’s given us great insight into some of the barriers to exporting to the UAE that we’ll need to overcome, such as product labelling.”

And despite how global Ideal Foods becomes, it’s clear why the company maintains Cornwall as its base: “The resources and support available to us here are fantastic, and a key factor behind why we’ve been able to establish such a strong export department. Along with DIT and CTI, we also regularly work with the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce. It helps us ensure we have all the certifications we need.”

If you want to explore how your business could flourish in Cornwall, and learn more about the region’s thriving healthtech sector, get in touch with Cornwall Trade and Investment today.

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