At the start of 2020, Faroe Islands-based Hiddenfjord sent its first batch of salmon to New York City by boat instead of plane. The trip took 40 days and the company’s managing director, Atli Gregersen, was eager to see how the first round held up during the trip.
Gregersen, whose family started the fish company nearly 100 years ago, had long wanted to shift the company’s transport from planes, which are heavy carbon emitters. He worried about the fish staying fresh, though and losing revenue.
Then, in the fall of 2019, Irish rockstar Bob Geldof came to the Danish islands for a climate change convention. He spoke about taking the leap. “It is not an option to carry on thinking and talking about alternative(s). Make up your mind and say, ‘Now, I will do what I have been thinking about.’” Gregersen remembers him saying.
Gregersen brought up the transportation changes to Hiddenfjord’s board a few weeks later. “Instead of thinking of the bad things that could have happened if we stopped flying fish, because our revenues would go down and our good reputation in the US market, we’d lose that, he helped us very much to make the decision,” Gregersen said.
The timing of Gregersen’s decision was incredible, though: Just as the pandemic began. Instead of just a dock, Hiddenfjord’s salmon was greeted by a city grappling with its first week of COVID-19.
“It could not be more unfortunate in the beginning,” Gregersen said. “The fish were not allowed to come to the harbor. The boat needed to wait. The first delivery was 28 days old when the customers got hold of it.”
Some of the salmon went bad — but some of it did not. “We knew that we could do much better, but this was not very bad news for us,” Gregersen said. “In fact it was a very good lesson of the system.”
Hiddenfjord halted all plane transportation last October. Since then, the company has reduced its co2 emissions by 94%, according to an evaluation by Norwegian research organization SINTEF.
Keeping the Cold Chain Intact
Hiddenfjord, which brings in about $20 million net revenue annually, developed a way to safely transport salmon and keep it high quality. The company packages the salmon — three hours after harvesting — in a sealed, regulated cool chain. This lets the company control the temperature at all times.
It turns out that the method keeps the fish fresher longer than flying it in coolers, Gregersen said. Plus, a recent survey from the Consumer Evaluation Center revealed that the 100 tasters could not tell the difference between the salmon transported by air and by sea with the method.
Overall COVID-19’s jammed-up air travel played to Hiddenfjord’s benefit. While competitors were stuck with fish unable to move because of cancelled flights, Hiddenfjord had the freezing technology and test rounds to ship to the U.S. and Europe. It also had fish lined up to arrive into harbors, giving chefs and grocery stores salmon supply that was dwindling.
At first, its revenue declined — but so did many others’ as people grappled with COVID-19.
Sometimes boats were delayed, and customers grew angry. But this was only temporary — the cost of shipping by boat is cheaper than flying, Gregersen said.
Hiddenfjord is working to reduce the CO2 emissions in its production, a task that’s a bit more complicated. For instance, a good portion of the remaining carbon emissions is accounted for in the production of the food they feed the salmon.