The theme ‘visionary leadership’ best describes Wheatley, Ont.-based fish processor Presteve Foods. That was the overriding message in speaking with Ulysses Pratas, President and COO of Presteve Foods, seafood specialists from production to distribution.
Beginning in 1980 as a small company with a single fishing boat, Presteve Foods has emerged as an innovative industry leader, today known as an extensive, vertically integrated fishing organization. While the company has grown over the years, it maintains operations at its home base near the Wheatley Harbour.
First known as producers, Presteve Foods opened the fish processing plant in 1986, with a vision to produce, process, and sell its product, offering a complete service. In the coming years, Presteve Foods expanded its buying markets from the Great Lakes to offer a more diverse product lineup, taking the company from a seasonal processor to a year-round operation.
A proud, family run operation – values that stick with the company to this day – Pratas took control of Presteve Foods in 2010. With a goal to strategically grow the company, Presteve Foods added a second location, purchasing Ferroclad, a Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.-based fish plant on the coast of Lake Superior, an addition that diversified its product offering. The secondary site offers white fish, lake trout, and herring, species not typically found in Wheatley, where homegrown perch and pickerel is offered. The current reach of Presteve Foods covers the Great Lakes and extends to any commercially landlocked lakes within mainland North America.
“This gave us ownership in the buying chain with easier access to the raw material to be able to keep a 12-month a year operation,” Pratas told The Canadian Business Journal. “There are a few other processes that are competitive, but some are not as diverse in the product category as we are.”
Not only offering a diverse product range, Pratas believes what separates Presteve Foods from a school of competition in the fish processing industry is its customer service offering, from special delivery to customized packaging. With a client retention rate of 95 per cent, clearly Presteve Foods is doing something right. The remainder represents the company’s year-over-year business growth, a segment that has been realized through the company’s launch of Purepac, the retail brand of Presteve Foods, an opportunity that has boosted the company’s fortunes to the next level. Pratas summarized, “I looked at the fishery all over again as what needed to be done to set the new market.”
Purepac offers battered and raw lake smelt to the retail market. Opportunities exist to move Presteve Foods forward with an increased retail presence and a greater diversity of products. Capitalizing on its strength in food service and wholesale distribution, including international sales, Presteve Foods began its retail brand to carry its success into the future. Much of the industry and its buying market remains seasonal, yet Presteve Foods plans to push the industry standard on a retail component.
Pratas explained, “The planning and commitment required to maintain a consistent retail presence in lake fish is different than what is recognized in the world of shrimp, crab, or other globalized species, so in doing so we took a risk, anticipating that we would be entering the market in a crawl, then walk, then run position.”
Presteve Foods’ Purepac has proven to be tangible and recognizable with customers, entering the retail segment with what has been an effective product offering. The net result has Presteve Foods possibly expanding into more products packaged for retail as part of the Purepac brand. Pratas summarized, “The position going forward is to take that from the two species to hopefully provide every product that we are capable of processing into a retail pack that can be appreciated across Canada and the United States.”
The Presteve Team
Involved in all facets of the fishing industry – from producing, to processing, to marketing, to delivery – Presteve Foods recognizes its valuable employees as a means to its success. “Our employees are the best asset we have, without them we wouldn’t be able to process all this fish. The more involved and the more team spirit, the more confidence we have when we sell to our customers, so that’s something we’re really trying to implement,” Pratas concluded. “We also have a local, family theme, which is especially important today when there is more emphasis on local product, and we’d like to be a part of that because we have a great story and a great product.”