JUAN SERRANO CEO OF GRUP BALFEGÓ
Manel and Pere Vicent Balfegó, cousins and founders of the company Balfego Are fifth generation members of a large fishing family originating from L’Ametlla de Mar in Tarragona, Spain. In the 80s, they harnessed their vision and decided to invest their time and energy exploring the possibilities of a bluefin tuna fishery. After many years of enquiry, hard-work and investment, they have gone on to establish themselves as the world’s leading company in terms of the understanding, capture, breeding, fishing, production and distribution of bluefin tuna.
Balfegó wild tuna live in pools off the coast of L’Ametlla de Mar. For up to a year they live here, feeding exclusively on wild fish. Dedication has now brought Balfego well earned product recognition, a benchmark of excellence establishing them as the only company in the world which extracts tuna from the sea at its optimum point of fat, dependent on customer demand. The extraction method used at Belfego guarantees a stress-free product, without ‘yake,’ which in Japanese means ‘burned meat,’ offering customers therefore a product of excellent gastronomic value as now found in many of the world’s best restaurants.
ABOUT JUAN SERRANO, CEO OF GRUP BALFEGÓ
I began my professional career at Philips Lighting, in the Procurement and Stock Management and Production Planning departments. Later, I went on to direct a project, a small snack and chips company that was later sold to the Arroz Sosarana Group, which I a shareholder in, and a member of the Board of Directors as Group Secretary. After that, I joined KH7, a company that, during my time, came to be the leader in the kitchen cleaners and degreasers segment. Next, I set up a business providing clients strategic advice and human resource selection and management. I was also part of Forenqui Laboratories. Later I was in a construction company and finally I joined Grup Balfegó in 2007.
Early days in Balfegó
I started as an external consultant advisor to Balfegó. This came about through Xavier Subirats, a former fellow student who is now Vice-Dean of the Catalonian Economists Society. Initially, I used to come in one day a week, later two, then three … Eventually I was working there full time, leaving behind other projects. I have been at Balfegó since then, in the position of the Group Managing Director.
What was the company like when you arrived?
It was a company with a particularly modern structure, a building that was only a year old, wonderful offshore facilities… but the company sold exclusively to, and dedicated itself 100% to Japan, and because of this, the product became a commodity. Our activity began with fishing the live fish. These captured tuna were fattened between July and October, and sold in October to November. This meant that we had to wait for the following year’s fishing season to have more specimens available to sell. In view of these unproductive periods, we elected for the fresh consumption strategy, adjusted to customer demand. Little by little, we were exporting to 32 countries in the world, quickly becoming the world’s leading company in fresh consumption.
At the structural and organizational model level, we also implemented a total transformation in which technology and innovation played a primary role.
We started investing in research, becoming a very powerful source of knowledge about bluefin tuna. So much so, that we were the first to intervene in the tuna reproduction cycle, proposing fishery control measures. In the end, we became a spokesperson that the media went to when they needed to learn about the species and the sector.
In addition, we design a marketing strategy to create a brand of considerable international prestige. This included a traceability system to monitor ourselves and used technology to provide information (weight, size, date of capture, fat percentage and all the itemised health and microbiological certificates), both to the chefs and end consumers alike.
In addition, we are the only ones who routinely specify the level of fat in each individual tuna, and so are able to optimally attend to the taste preferences of our customers.
How is Balfegó nowadays, and what are the perspectives for the future?
At a commercial level, we can say that we are a leading company, internationally recognized. We have a presence in some of the best restaurants in the world in more than 32 countries, and are a pioneer in the marketing of fresh bluefin tuna. Balfegó is a company that functions under a well-implemented integrated management system with procedures that makes us increasingly efficient. We perpetuously seek to improve the tasks involved in all these procedures, continuously improving existing indicators. In the future, I see us opening up in other areas apart from the restaurant sector where we have been from 2009 until now. Little by little, I see us adding retail outlets, specialized in the gourmet area.
What role does the R + D + i department play in Balfegó?
It is the department, let’s say, at the cutting edge. If we had not gotten to know our product, its biology and its behaviour in its natural environment in the sea, surely today we would be in the position we are in. We would not have been able to give recommendations on tuna fishery management. We have been pioneers in this regard, thanks to all our investment in marine research.
On top of all of this, we should highlight that we have also been at the forefront of research and innovation once the tuna leaves the water. We have learned, by measuring the PH, to control the lactic acid that a tuna secretes after slaughtering, and we were pioneers when it came to measuring fat content. As a direct result of this research, we feed tuna exclusively on blue fish and in this way, adapting the taste in terms of the fat level, to meet the requirements of customers from different parts of the world. In addition, we are in some way able to guarantee the health and food safety of our products. Without a doubt, pioneers in total traceability from the sea to the consumer’s table.
How important have the fish husbandry facilities been in Balfegó’s transformation?
There are two important considerations. The first one is that bringing a seasonal product to market that can only be fished during a short period of time can cause prices to fall. Having fish husbandry facilities available allows us to regulate supply and demand. If, at the other end of the supply chain, there is no-one who wants that tuna, we will never slaughter it. And the second aspect is improving the quality of the tuna we fish. When tuna come to the Mediterranean to spawn, they have lost a large proportion of fat during the journey. It is important that they recover it, because it is in this fat that the quality of the tuna resides. These are the two mainstays.