Sri Lanka is key in the Indian Ocean, holding the highest GDP per capita in South Asia whilst facing fierce competition on all fronts. In your experienced opinion, how do you see Sri Lanka’s social and economic structure evolving in the next five years?
We are facing some challenges at the moment as a country. However, if you look at our particular industry, we have seen a lot of development within the sector. We are predicting a growth from US $200 million to US $1 billion by 2025. We are also expecting about 20,000 new skilled jobs to be created within the sector. While we are doing this, we are also promoting sustainable agriculture, such as rehabilitation of abandoned pond farms. We are converting them into new round tank farms with new technology so that we do not need to cut down new mangroves or any other land for these projects. The round pond design also reduces our carbon footprint.
Since independence the sector has developed into a very competitive fast moving consumer goods manufacturing sector. Could you please brief our readers about the strengths and the potential of the Sri Lankan seafood industry and trading sector?
Our main focus is on Vannamei shrimp farming which is the most traded seafood item in the world. It took us a long time to get it introduced in Sri Lanka, however; we are now setup and running. We were able to study the region and work out which systems and regulations were required so that when auditors from the US and interested people look at our business, they can see that we are following the correct protocols and everything is up to date. We have been able to learn from the mistakes made in Thailand and India.
Our project is what they call generation 5 because we don’t have any old infrastructure, we are able to leap straight to the latest technology and put it into place. We are really quite buoyant about the future, we are really confident, and we expect it to grow another 200%, all being well this year.
Taprobane Seafoods was established in 2011 and it has grown constant and exponentially through the years. Could you please explain the story behind Taprobane Seafoods?
It was actually quite an off-chance meeting. Dilan had a family business and I had been working for an American company for 10 years and I was in India running my own business. When I came to Sri Lanka, I was determined to find a local partner to work with, since I believe in South Asia, and thought it the right way to go. We were the first company to go onto the Northern province. We work really closely with the UN and the ILO and we believe that the private sector has a really important role to play in the post war recovery. We were able to go and set up factories very quickly at a low cost. The crab meat we produce is 95% exported to the US market and it is exceptionally labour intensive, as for every 10kgs of crab you need one worker. We are now providing jobs to over a thousand workers in the North; most of them are war widows, or have never worked before. For us it was a fantastic business opportunity and we were also able to make a big positive impact on the communities. We have seen many US customers supporting us because of the impact we were having on the local communities, especially with the crab meat because it attracts a high-end clientele and unfortunately most crab meat generally comes from South East Asian factories which are mainly exploited fisheries. Due to the nature of our company, they really got behind us and helped us elevate our story. We have a total of 15 factories; there are 12 factories from Mannar to Jaffna, and then we have another three factories in the North Western Province.
We are predicting a growth from US $200 million to US $1 billion by 2025. We are also expecting about 20,000 new skilled jobs to be created within the sector. While we are doing this, we are also promoting sustainable agriculture, such as rehabilitation of abandoned pond farms.
Despite the pandemic, Taprobane Seafoods has experienced an exponential growth. Recently, you partnered with Atman Group, and the company is now one of the most successful food producers and exporters worth over USD $50 Million. What is the key to your success? What differentiates Taprobane Seafoods from its competition and which countries represent your biggest exporting markets?
I would say transparency is the key to our success, we focus a lot on this, not just in our business model but also in the way we deal with customers. Sri Lanka is a very remarkable country, besides the current situation, people like coming here. We tend to look at the growth of the country and then we benefit from that. Our labour force is probably one of our biggest assets, because we put them out front and we have a really low turnover compared to most other countries in the region and the companies in our sector.
I believe being really focused on sustainability and socially responsible does set us apart from our competitors. If you look at what is happening in other countries like India, they are so far behind us simply because they inherited old infrastructure and, in the process, they inherited the old way of doing business. Right from day one we want to talk about our story behind impact purchasing, being transparent and trying our best to help drive sustainable seafood.
Roughly 60% of our shares are with the US, so they are our biggest export market.
The United States of America is the main economic partner of Sri Lanka, with an annual trade over 24% of all Sri Lanka’s exports. The American Seafood market is worth over US $68 billion. Could you give us some insights about Taprobane’ commercial relations with the United States? What is your strategy to gain presence in the American market?
We work with one of the biggest crab importers to the US and our product is right at the top in terms of suppliers. We have a long-standing relationship with the parent company; Thai Union. They support us here and they most probably wouldn’t work with anyone else in Sri Lanka because they love what we do and our story with the communities up North. Also, our crab stock was in pristine condition when we started here simply because the fisheries had been untouched during the war.
Our strategy to gain presence in the American market is to continue exploring sustainable ways and to get international certifications so that we can differentiate ourselves. Sri Lanka is a small country with good access and we feel like it is easier to get food safety and sustainability certificates. We also believe that we are the partner of choice for the US because they can’t get these products in every other country and we offer a set of transparency that the American consumers are demanding. Sri Lanka is very well set for companies in terms of labour, there is no migrant labour, or child labour, which is very important, and essentially should be key for every country.
What is your final message for the readers of USA Today across the world?
Come and buy our crab meat! Even in the difficult situation we are living in, I believe Sri Lankans can pull through and very soon we will be looking past all these challenges and see what a wonderful country this is, and everyone will see the great business opportunity it represents. The people here are incredibly friendly and welcoming.
On the logistical side, Sri Lanka can be a bustling hub for fish processing as we have some of the best factories in the world. Companies in the USA can easily send it here for processing and then ship it back, that is another option for future investors.