Volume 2 | Issue 2 | Year 2006

The Barry family has been involved in fish harvesting and processing since the 1830s. In 1854 Barry’s established its current headquarters in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada. A century ago, the company produced mostly salted herring and salt cod. During the 1960s the advent of modern technology presented promising business opportunities and the family-owned company placed greater focus on quality, customer service, and marketing, while expanding its customer base and production with more diverse species and packaging options.

While the company owns about a dozen of its own vessels its main source of supply is from independent fishers. Markets include the U.S. with significant additional markets in Europe and Japan for lobster and other species. “The U.S. is our main market and for the most part our products are going to food service rather than retail,” says Vice President Karl Sullivan. While Americans aren’t big fish eaters, the health and versatile taste benefits of fish are making an impact. “Per capita consumption is a fraction of the per capita consumption of beef and chicken but still the numbers are big,” Sullivan says of the American palate for fish.

The environmentally responsible expansion of the Barry Group accelerated in the 1990s with strategic acquisition of more processing plants, and expanded quotas. This allowed the company to begin diversifying domestically and internationally and add species including shellfish. “Our principal species are lobster, shrimp and crab by value and pelagic species, such as herring and mackerel, by volume,” Sullivan says. “We are also involved with groundfisheries: Greenland halibut (turbot) and red fish (ocean perch) are the two main species, while we also harvest, process and market cod, Pollock and other groundfish species.”

Nearly all its fish is wild caught, although the company operates salmon farms producing about 3,500 tons a year with plans to expand to 15,000 tons in the near future.

A major boost for the company over the years has been its business with Russia. “We did some big contracts with the Soviet Union, later Russia, in the supply of cured herring in barrels,” Sullivan says. “We developed business in over-the-side sales – in Europe it’s called klondiking – where Canadian harvesters landed fresh herring and other species onto Russian vessels. We developed a trade with Russia when very, very few companies in Canada were dealing with Russia.” The company even today employs some Russian vessels to fish in the North Atlantic.

High Standards, Sea to Plate

Today, a large and skillful workforce throughout Atlantic Canada processes thousands of tons of fish from an expanding list of species for the demanding and competitive international market.

The company has close ties with fishermen to ensure that processing facilities maintain top quality and predictable raw material for production. In a competitive industry, these approaches and relationships are the key to meeting the demanding specifications of clients. A sustainable resource is also central to the company’s future prosperity and, contrary to many businesses of the past, the Barry Group is a real long-term stakeholder and investor in the industry. It works actively with fisherman and resource biologists and other scientists to responsibly manage renewable ocean resources.

The company operates about 30 plants along the Eastern Canadian seaboard in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Its team of approximately 4,500 employees and managers operate some of the most modern in-plant technologies, acquired worldwide, to meet the exacting standards and requirements of the market.

“Most of our plants are state-of-the-art; especially our shrimp and crab, and pelagic plants,” Sullivan says. “Lobster is a little different because most lobsters are caught either in Canada or Maine and a lot of it goes into live markets, even though we specialize in the labor-intensive processing of lobster meat”

At the same time, the company adheres to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, or HACCP standards. HACCP is the U.S. FDA food safety program that gets its inspiration from space-age technology designed to keep food safe in outer space. Seafood standards set the bar for regulations being extended to the entire U.S. food chain. (U.S.D.A. regulates meat and poultry; FDA all other foods.) The program for the astronauts focuses on preventing hazards that could cause food-borne illnesses by applying science-based controls, from raw material to finished products. FDA’s seafood system does the same by analyzing hazards, identifying critical control points in production, and establishing preventive measures with critical limits for each control point. Other steps entail establishing procedures to monitor the critical control points, corrective actions to be taken when monitoring shows that a critical limit has not been met, procedures to verify that the system is working properly, and effective record keeping to document the HACCP system. Each of these principles must be backed by sound scientific knowledge: for example, published microbiological studies on time and temperature factors for controlling food borne pathogens.

The Barry Group’s internal controls meet or exceed the U.S. and other government standards for fish processing.

Fishing 101

The Barry Group has expanded its horizons from the days when herring and mackerel were the high-volume species. Today, a focus on customer brands and also the retail markets, have led to a diversity of species and packaging options.

As the single largest exporter and producer of Atlantic Canadian seafood, the Barry Group processes pelagic species in fresh, frozen, or marinated forms, including frozen female or male capelin, frozen mackerel, many forms of frozen herring, and a wide variety of private-label marinated herring for retail distribution.

Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus harengus) is the fish that the company has built upon. For 90 years it has remained an important part of the overall operation, with access to over 40,000 tons of Atlantic herring. Barry Group serves markets throughout North America, Europe and Asia supplying secondary processors with the highest quality herring products. Whether the fish are to be used for marinating, smoking, canning, salting or fresh preparations, the company meets exact customer product needs.

Barry Group packages a variety of size grades for special product orders. The natural oil present in herring is rich in healthy Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Herring package styles include 7 kg whole hand laid; 10 and 15 kg whole parallel pack; 10 and 15 kg herring fillets including butterfly, kippered and skin-on, skinless, and chunks; and barrel products such as vinegar cured and salted. Secondary products from herring include bottled chunks and fillets, smoked herring, herring roe and milt, and herring surimi. Typical whole round size grades are 250-300 grams, 300-400 grams or 400-plus. Small grades are also available. Typical fillet size grades are 6-10 ct/kg, 8-12 ct/kg, or 10-16 ct/kg.

Groundfish species are another category. Whether it is daily fresh turbot fillet deliveries to Atlanta, individually quick-frozen (IQF) redfish fillets to a supermarket chain, or salted split codfish to the Iberian Peninsula, the Barry Group delivers according to schedule and with competitive prices. Cod is a delicious, white-fleshed fish that can be pan fried, broiled, baked or breaded and deep fried (think fish and chips). The fish yields thick, moist pearly white flakes, firm, lean fillet with a sweet delicate flavor that makes it so versatile in many cooking applications. Historically, Atlantic Cod was the backbone of Atlantic Canada’s fishing industry. Now Cod is in a stage of slow rebuilding.

Nevertheless the Barry Group provides a valuable source of cod for markets in North America and Europe. Atlantic Cod is available in a variety of product forms including fresh and frozen skinless boneless fillets, special cuts (loins, tails, center cuts), and skin-on fillets. Frozen fillets are available as interleaved shatter pack style, cello pack and frozen blocks. The Barry Group also processes a full line of dry salt and pickle cured cod products. The company packages under its own brands and custom packs for a variety of well known brand names found in supermarkets around the world.

Barry Group produces 1,500 metric tons of cod each year with processing techniques including raw material grading, machine and hand cut filleting, manual trimming and inspection, flow line technology, quick freeze systems, size grading, check weighing, and metal detection.

Ocean Perch (redfish) is another popular ground fish. It’s a delicious white-fleshed fish that can be pan fried, grilled, broiled or breaded and deep-fried. It’s a healthy, tasty fish found on the finest menus. The Barry Group is one of the largest Ocean Perch companies in the world producing 10 million pounds a year from the inshore fishery in Atlantic Canada and freezer vessels fishing in the Irminger Sea. Ocean Perch is available in a variety of product forms including whole round, headed and gutted, skin on and skinless fillets. Fresh product is normally packed by requested size grade into 10-pound styrofoam boxes. Frozen fillets are available as interleaved shatter pack style, individual quick frozen fillets, cello pack and frozen blocks. Barry Group packages under its own brands and custom packs for a variety of well-known brand names found in supermarkets.

Rounding out the groundfish species are Greenland Halibut (Turbot) (Reinhardtius hippoglossides), Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), Skate (thorny-Raja radiata, smooth-Raja senta), Pollock (Atlantic Pollock), Atlantic Halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus), Monkfish (Lophius), Hake (Urophycis cuss), and Silver Hake (Uropycis tenuis).

Shellfish is one of the most popular menu items on the American table. Cooked and peeled cold-water prawns (shrimp) are synonymous with a sweet taste for the discerning customers of North America and Europe. The Barry Group is one of the largest processors of cooked and peeled shrimp in Atlantic Canada, exporting finished products to retailers, food and wholesale distributors only after passing rigorous inspections by the quality control managers of those companies.

Barry Group North Atlantic Lobster (Homarus americanus) is trapped in the icy waters off the coast of Canada’s Maritime Provinces and the New England Coast. Canadian Lobster is usually harvested between April and December, while U.S. Lobster is harvested between July and December, thereby giving customers the availability of a constant supply. Customers know the Canadian hard-shelled Lobster for its superior taste and texture, considered by many to be the best in the world. The company specializes in brine, blast, and alcohol freezing processes, and produces a variety of packaged lobster sections.

Snow Crab, produced under the Ocean Leader Brand, is distributed worldwide after passing inspection from a number of stringent technicians. Snow crab can be served whole, popular in exclusive Japanese resorts. Also, under the strictest hygiene controls, the company extracts the sweet, red, attractive meat naturally without phosphates (unlike some other brands of competitors).

Snow Crab (Chionoecetes opilio) is truly a delicacy and Canadian snow crab is one of the most important species processed by the Barry Group, with 30 million pounds of crab being processed annually in five strategically located facilities in Atlantic Canada. Harvested from the cold North Atlantic live snow crab are processed in a variety of product forms. The most popular is shell on clusters or sections packed in a variety of size grades according to customer specification. Extracted crab leg meat and salad leg meat combination packages are also processed, as well as whole crab primarily for Japanese markets. Canadian snow crab is demanded by seafood connoisseurs throughout the world and the Barry Group’s quality reputation is synonymous with satisfaction and product excellence. Snow crab has a sweet delicate flavor and supple moist texture and is found on most menus throughout North America. In Japan, snow crab is a preferred shellfish and the company proudly exceeds the Japanese quality specifications. Snow crab is available in a variety of package styles, cluster size grades, and whole cooked size grades. Rock Crab is also available.

Catch of the Day

Trends in the fishing industry mirror other food production categories. “The biggest thing happening is that the industry is becoming very concentrated in terms of suppliers and particularly on the buying side in the U.S. and a number of other markets,” Sullivan says of the company’s wholesale and branded businesses. An example of one of its largest customers is Vita Food Products in Chicago, famous for its jars of herring.

“It’s important for us to be able to offer a wide range of products and to be as close to consumers as possible,” Sullivan says. “There’s a certain scale required and if you don’t have scale in the industry today it’s difficult to serve one’s customers.”

In the fish business it’s a matter of supply and supply. “We are supply driven; we move from one species to another. In Atlantic Canadian waters now, ground fish stocks are really at very low levels but for shellfish and pelagic species, the opposite is true.”

The company follows careful environmental practices but is subject to global climate forces. “Ocean temperatures play a very large part in terms of availability of most fish species there’s no doubt about that,” he confirms. “We’ve had some species where there have been declining catches and others in which the resource is very strong. One of our biggest challenges is our cold-water shrimp where we have a very large supply. We want to focus more on the U.S. market for cold water shrimp.”

The company completes fresh deliveries three times per week in the U.S. but most products are frozen. Markets include U.S. cruise ships, casinos, and restaurant chains, along with some supermarket business.

It all adds up as the company has grown nearly 40-fold in 20 years, largely through acquisition of nearby processing plants. “We are always looking at opportunities in terms of acquisitions. We have turned around a lot of companies that weren’t doing very well. We like to buy at a good price, put our time, effort and know-how into revitalization of these enterprises. We’re very entrepreneurial and innovative and we try to integrate our strengths.