ELO Group Visits Cooke Aquaculture Headquarters in New Brunswick

The ELO Peer Advisory Group had the privilege to get a comprehensive tour and site visit of Cooke Aquaculture and The Cooke Family Group of Companies, Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, on May 24. Mike Cooke, one of the co-founders of Cooke, led the tour.

One of the objectives of the ELO Peer Advisory Group Network is to provide unique experiences to members. This is a way of understanding the business of other members firsthand by seeing operations and interacting with key staff.

Cooke visit 1Cooke does aquaculture as a big part of their business. They farm salmon in multiple countries around the world, sea bass and sea bream in Spain, shrimp in Central America, and prawns in Australia. They are also a large fishing company. They have operations in Argentina, Uruguay, and the USA. They operate in 14 countries around the world with over $4 billion in sales and close to 14,000 employees.

For detailed information regarding Cooke Aquaculture please refer to a series of four blog posts featuring Rick Goossen's interview with Glenn Cooke, CEO. The company is a global seafood leader founded in 1985 by Glenn Cooke, his brother Mike, and their dad Gifford.

The Cooke site visit included visiting the Johnson Lake Hatchery, a Marine Farm Site, and the True North Salmon Whole Fish & Value Added Processing plant. We also visited the GMG Polybox operations where they make their styrofoam packaging and the GMG Net Loft where they make their fish farm cages and do net repairs.

Lyndon Hiebert, President & Owner, Halchemix, Waterloo, was one of the PAG Member participants. He commented that “the tour of Cooke Aquaculture was impressive. The scale of growth and vertical integration over the past several decades can only be appreciated once you see it in action. It is encouraging to what is possible when you put together a culture of continuous learning and improvement, high values with good people.”

Ralph Loewen, President & CEO, Itergy, Montreal, noted that "it was great to see a true Canadian entrepreneurial success story first-hand. I found it informative, inspirational, and motivating. For me, there was no boring part of the tour!"

Cooke visit 2The group started the tour at the Johnson Lake Hatchery. We then went to St. Andrews By-the-Sea, NB. The Marine Farm Site is 20-30 minutes by boat from the St Andrews By-the-Sea pier. We also did a drive-by of nearby Blacks Harbour where the Company head office is located and Cooke works out of several office buildings in the small community.

The True North Salmon Whole Fish & Value Added Processing plant is quite amazing with a high level of automation, yet still requires significant human involvement. Much can be done with machines, but people are still required for quality control after deboning or for putting together skewers.

One of the amazing pieces of machinery we saw in the hatchery individually vaccinates, tags, and photographs every one of their fish. Every single fish! We all thought it was a joke (the kind to test the gullibility of rubes on a site visit). No, it’s not a joke. One machine can vaccinate 20,000 fish per hour. Amazing!

One interesting aspect of the tour is that you develop an appreciation of the complexity of modern aquaculture. There are a lot of highly qualified people working on the development of the strains of Atlantic Salmon that have the best shape, colour, size, and conversion of feed to weight most efficiently. Companies like Cooke are constantly looking at how much feed is required to deliver a superb end product.

The GMG Polybox plant was interesting. The packaging is great for salmon as it protects the product well when shipped around the world. Their own plant can’t keep up with the demands of the processing plant.

The Cooke operations are quite efficient. They can take a salmon and in three days it goes from swimming in the ocean to being served in a restaurant regionally or in Asia.

At the heart of Cooke is the entrepreneurial spirit—the company keeps innovating. It has regularly acquired companies as part of its growth strategy. It also keeps trying new things. Of course, part of the innovative process is that not everything works. Mike Cooke pointed to a large field behind one of their facilities and wistfully noted that that is where the unsuccessful ideas end up.

Finding staff is always a challenge, especially in smaller communities where there is a limited local pool of candidates. The company works to recruit overseas workers, many from the Philippines. One appealing feature is that the cost of living is relatively low in small communities in New Brunswick.

The Cooke growth story is amazing. The company originated in St. George, NB, and has evolved into a global enterprise, with operations in Europe, South America, Europe and Australia.

The ELO Peer Advisory Groups are comprised of Christian senior executives, entrepreneurs, and other business leaders from across Canada. These groups help Christian business leaders learn, grow, and find meaning in their businesses.

By meeting with other likeminded leaders and peers from non-competing industries, members are able to hone in on their entrepreneurial spirit and sharpen their skills as leaders. By meeting with our professional business advisors and global expert presenters, members are able to learn how to prosper in their business practices and as Christians in the marketplace.

Through our Groups, members collaborate to work through their business issues and concerns, gaining helpful advice and insights from one another. 

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