Jason Whooley has been CEO of Bio-marine Ingredients Ireland (BII) since September 2014. He previously held the role of CEO with state seafood agency, Bord Iascaigh Mhara. He has extensive knowledge of the fishing industry having spent over a decade as CEO of the fishing group, Irish South & West Fishermans Organisation (ISWFO) and holds a BComm in Management and Marketing from UCC. BII is a joint venture between Killybegs fishing interests and Norwegian partners. The Monaghan based company extracts proteins, oils and calcium from fish, for use in a range of sectors including food ingredients. Cantor Fitzgerald recently raised €3m in funding for the company through the Employment & Investment Incentive Scheme.
How did you become involved in the marine bio-tech sector?
I’ve been involved in seafood since I left college. When I was approached by some of the founding shareholders in BII, I had been CEO of BIM for seven years. While leaving a state job for a start-up was daunting, I’m delighted to have made the move. Replicating the dairy ingredients success with seafood was too good an opportunity to turn down.
The food ingredients sector has played a significant role in the overall success of the Irish food & drinks industry. What have been the key drivers for this success and growth?
It’s difficult to narrow this down to a few points but it’s clear that there has been a series of measured steps that has created an enviable reputation for Irish ingredients in the global market. Specifically, there has been an understanding of the macro trends in the market and Irish companies have been fantastic at interpreting these trends to deliver ingredient solutions that satisfy customers on an ongoing basis. In addition, Irish companies have been ready to work with leading Irish academic players to develop a really comprehensive scientific support for Irish ingredients in the market.
What are the main challenges facing the food ingredients industry, and how is Bio-marine Ingredients Ireland best placed to succeed in a sector dominated by multinational players?
Taking the first part of the question, some of the main challenges facing the industry are trying to constantly understand consumer trends and preferences, and being able to develop products that deliver on the evolving consumer expectations. I think that the issue of sustainability and the growing influence of plant proteins are key challenges. That said, as with all challenges, if addressed, there is no reason why they can’t be turned into opportunities for the Irish industry.
In terms of how we are best placed to succeed, as a small company, we believe that we are offering an alternative protein to traditional sources such as dairy. Many of the multi-national players do not have the same understanding or access to raw material, which we feel differentiates us from the competition. Given that we have our plant up and running, I think that we can also benefit from first mover advantage.
What are the key milestones achieved by Bio-marine Ingredients Ireland to date?
When you start something from a blank page, sometimes there are lessons to be learned from similar facilities but in our case, that wasn’t and isn’t the case. Taking whole fish and transforming it into various powders is technically challenging. As of now, we have built the only marine bio-refinery in Europe. In that plant, we are commercially producing a range of powders and that is a source of huge satisfaction for everyone involved in the company. In addition, we have funded the project through significant private investment in the absence of traditional bank debt availability.
In an export led market such as the food ingredients sector, what markets represent the biggest opportunities for Bio-marine Ingredients Ireland?
For Bio-marine, given that our raw material is fish, we see massive opportunities in Asia-Pacific where there is a natural predisposition towards fish and it is very much the protein of choice for many consumers. The longer term trends clearly show that the growing demand for seafood in that region can’t be met without significant imports. Working in partnership with companies in that region to develop new product concepts using our powders is something that we are very excited about.
What are Bio-Marine Ingredients’ plans for the future?
Our immediate plans are to scale our production and sales in Monaghan. In the first instance, we will be using blue whiting but we are also interested in exploring new opportunities for new marine ingredients. Key to our success will be accessing the human nutrition market and that is our main market focus for 2019. In the medium term, when we have proven the Monaghan facility in the human ingredients market, we will examine a further opportunity to develop a second manufacturing plant in Killybegs.
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