The complexities of the modern fishing industry made it difficult for many companies to stay afloat. Kowalsky has defied the odds. Helen Larkin reports on how this family business has turned what began as a regional fish market into a global fishing, storage, and shipping industry that brings the best of the seas to consumers across the land.
Kowalsky Fishing Co., operating under controller KowFrio Ltda., is a vibrant fishing and cold storage company which, contrary to many modern fisheries, operates its own transport, owns its own ships, and controls its own storage freezer units. Located in Brazil’s southern, European-influenced state of Santa Catarina, Kowalsky is at the forefront of the fishing industry as it coordinates sales and exports throughout Brazil as well as internationally in Europe, USA, and Japan. The thriving company now operates branches in the neighboring state of Rio Grande do Sul as well as in Sao Paulo state.
A FAMILY LEGACY
Kowalsky started in 1961 when David Kowalsky, an amateur fisherman from nearby Sao Francisco do Sul, opened a fish market with his sons. “My father was a longtime employee of a local logging company,” recounts Evaldo Kowalsky, the founder’s son and Kowalsky’s present-day president. “When that closed down, Dad opened a fish market, and then expanded from there. The rest is history.” Known as Peixaria Sao Pedro, the store sold anywhere from 200 up to 500 kilos of fish on a daily basis. Kowalsky seemedto have a knack for trade, and began to look to the horizon.
Kowalsky began dealing with a circle of fishing ranks in town, and also began a partnership with fishery points on the island of Sao Francisco do Sul, which was quite forward-thinking for the time. He was able to finance three small boats, motors, and other equipment, receiving in exchange all fish that they were able to catch. Kowalsky was thus well on its way to becoming the booming business it is today. In 1966, David, with the help of his son Evaldo, was able to commercialize the company under his own name, at a net worth of $2,000.
In 1967, along with his wife Celina Macedo Kowalsky and his three sons Evaldo, Ezio, and Luis Carlos, David Kowalsky managed to modernize the company by reinventing it under the name Supermercado de Pescados Kowalsky Ltda. This was located in the same city, at a fishing port called Babitonga St. A few years later, in May of 1974, the company had capital of $5,000, and was changed again to Com. Inc. de Pescados Kowalsky Ltda. The Kowalsky family was then able to buy a fish warehouse in Itajai, and the Kowalsky headquarters were transferred to the new location.
By this time, Kowalsky was controlled by the next generation, with Evaldo as chairman. The three brothers bought their first fishing boat, and christened it Santo Andre. This would be the first of many boats. Between 1974 and 1986, Kowalsky made huge investments in transport, fishing, and cold-storage areas, buying Delmar S/A Com. De Pescados as well as Ind. Pescados Brasmar Ltda, and incorporating both into the Kowalsy empire.
A MODERN TAKE
“Our company today is run by my brother Jose and myself, and Kowalsky will always be a family company,” explains Kowalsky. “From my father as founder in the 1960s, to our operation today, my five brothers, three sons, father and mother have all been active players in Kowalsky.” The family values of entrepreneurship and diligence have seen it through the years. “In 2010 we will have been in business for 50 years, and for all that has changed, the important things have stayed the same,” said Kowalsky.
Today, Kowalsky includes a team of over 300 employees, and processes about 8,000 tons of fish per year. The company boasts a fishing fleet of 13 boats that operate at high seas and are equipped with cold storage basements. Its coverage extends between the frontiers of the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, to Uruguay, up to the city of Vitoria, in the southeastern state of Espirito Santo.
In terms of storage and transport, Kowalsky operates 10 cold storage road transport units, with cold storage capacity of 5,000 tons of fish per day in the Itajai unit, and also produces its own ice at a capacity of 50 tons per day. Along with Kowfrio Ltda., the Kowalsky complex encompasses an area of 27,000 square meters, with an investment of $20 million. Current leadership includes Evaldo as chairman, and Jose Francisco as a manager.
Kowalsky currently processes about 8,000 tons of fish per year, an astonishing amount compared to its inception close to 50 years ago. Today’s main products include fresh and frozen sardines, tuna, shark, monkfish, dolphin, croaker, mackerel, bumper, striped mullet and anchovies, which are distributed throughout Brazil and internationally.
“What sets us apart is that we not only capture, but process and distribute our product,” says Kowalsky. The company is as forward-thinking today as it was back in its early days when David Kowalsky began to set an industry example. Today Kowalsky is in control of each and every aspect of its business, from fishing to eventual distribution. The fish are sold whole or in fillets, breaded and eviscerated, in packages of 10 kg and 20 kg.
CATCH AND RELEASE
Kowalsky began to export its fish in 1978, and the company’s exports now typically account for about 50 percent of its total production. However, very recently this percentage decreased to 40 percent, due to the appreciation of Brazilian currency in relation to the American dollar. “At first our company just served our area’s needs, then we expanded to sell fish all over Brazil, and then in 1978, began to export, first to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and then later to Europe, Asia, and the U.S.,” explains Kowalsky.
About 10 years ago, the company embarked on a new adventure as it began to export its product to Tunisia. Today, it exports about 1,000 tons of frozen tuna to Tunisia each year, where the product is bought by the French company Jais stationed there. In the Jais factory, the frozen tuna is made into preserves, and sent to the French market. It was the Kowalsky reputation that earned the company this new partnership, as Jais heard of Kowalsky through its exports via the Bank of Brasil.
Kowalsky also exports frozen monkfish to Italy, Spain and France, fresh fish to the United States, and frozen tuna to Argentina. In the near future, Kowalsky intends to begin shipping fish to Korea. There is always more on the horizon for Kowalsky.