Atlantic Canada and Maine-based Cooke Aquaculture is in the process of purchasing Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods Inc. The sale, which was due to close shortly at press time, would be the latest in a series of acquisitions for Cooke in recent years.
“Cooke Aquaculture and the Cooke family have always been looking for ways to grow their business and become more globally competitive,” says Nell Halse, vice-president of communications for Cooke Aquaculture. “We’ve made a number of acquisitions in the past few years. Some of those acquisitions have moved more deeply into the fishery side of the seafood business. We haven’t been looking just at aquaculture operations.”
Halse says that when Icicle went back on the market after a sale to another party fell through, Cooke representatives were drawn by Icicle’s salmon farming business unit based in Washington State. As they further looked into Icicle’s business, Cooke found that there were other attractive facets, including an Alaskan fishery unit and a groundfish unit.
“It quite quickly became a vision for the whole company, not just the salmon farming operations,” says Halse. “We have more recently ventured into the fishery. We’ve always had some interest in the fishery. The family has history in the fishery that goes back many generations. It’s certainly not a foreign concept.”
Halse says that Cooke’s purchase of Virginia and North Carolina-based Wanchese Fish Company last year put them into the seafood sector in a major way. Icicle represents a similar opportunity in terms of enhancing existing sales, marketing and distribution channels.
“Icicle brings with it a very strong sales and marketing team and all kinds of different products that we would be able to add to our network,” says Halse. “There’s a lot of synergy there for us bringing Icicle into the Cooke group of companies. It will be able to expand and harmonize a lot of the sales team, their efforts and the customer base.”
Cooke’s current plans for Icicle are to continue running it as a stand-alone company, with the current management team remaining in place. Those plans may change as the companies begin to integrate with one another.
Halse says that Cooke’s management has already visited all Icicle’s facilities through the due diligence process and are already well-acquainted with the company’s operations.
“Glenn [Cooke], our CEO, has visited every operation in Alaska,” says Halse. “It already is quite familiar, and it’s quite important to him that he and his management team are there in person to interact as much as they can. Once the deal closes, we’ll have a lot more interaction and people communicating back and forth and learning from one another.”
Should the deal close, it will represent a move for Cooke into new frontiers – the west coast of North America. Obviously, that new environment will present new challenges, but Halse says it will not be an entirely unfamiliar situation.
“Even though it’s a different geographic location for us and there are a lot of new things to learn, there are some things that are very similar,” says Halse. “We’re talking about coastal and rural communities in Alaska and Washington State. Cooke is a company that’s based in a small coastal community on the East coast of Canada. We’ve become major social and economic drivers in many communities in Atlantic Canada and Maine. We know how important this sector is to these communities and we respect it. Our intention is to invest in this business, not just to take pieces of it and get rid of it. We’re going to invest in Alaska – we believe in its future.”
While many of Cooke’s operational plans won’t be made public until the deal closes, Halse says that Cooke plans to utilize Icicle’s diversification to bring farmed and wild products together and provide customers with year-round access to a wide variety of fresh seafood products.
— Matt Jones