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How this QLD seafood company grew its exports despite pandemic

How this QLD seafood company grew its exports despite pandemic  article image

For Queensland-based Walker Seafoods, exporting its prized tuna has been the backbone of its business.

The Mooloolaba business is Australia’s largest wild-caught tuna company. It specialises in premium Yellowfin Tuna, Bigeye Tuna, Albacore Tuna and Swordfish.

So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the family-owned business was facing financial disaster.

Walker Seafoods exported up to 80% of its product before the pandemic. It faced the prospect of being cut off from existing overseas customers when border restrictions grounded international flights.

But when COVID-19 threatened exports, Walker Seafoods used the Australian Government’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) to reconnect with existing customers overseas.

“For a while, export was the only way we could keep operating,” says Walker Seafoods Managing Director Heidi Walker. “IFAM saved us.”

IFAM allowed the company to maintain access to key markets such as the US and Japan.

“When COVID-19 hit, we urgently needed to get product overseas, as did a lot of people in this industry,” says Walker. “It was brilliant news when we found out about IFAM and the introduction of some flights.

Emergency support measure

“The program was all implemented very quickly. For us, it honestly saved our business. We picked up some IFAM flights, which really helped us stay connected to our markets.”

IFAM is a temporary, targeted, emergency support measure put in place by the Government to keep global air links open in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program has successfully reconnected Australia to about 63 international destinations.

It has helped move high-value perishable Australian products to international customers and enabled the import of nationally important goods, aiding Australia’s pandemic response.

Walker Seafoods has been accessing IFAM flights from Brisbane to Los Angeles and Narita.

This has given the business, which relies on airfreight, extra time to adapt to the new international trade environment.

Strong focus on sustainability

For Walker Seafoods, sustainability has always been a big focus. The company was the first business in Australia to gain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. Demand for its tuna soared in Australia and overseas after it was certified.

To earn the MSC certification, Walker Seafoods underwent a rigorous process. It had to prove it could set credible standards for sustainable fishing and supply chain traceability.

Walker says achieving the MSC certification was a defining moment for the company.

“We’re a family business and we’re passionate about keeping the marine environment healthy so we can keep fishing for generations to come,” says Walker.

“With the MSC ecolabel, we can now prove scientifically that we’re doing our bit to keep fish populations and marine ecosystems healthy.

“Achieving the MSC Standard also helps feed the growing demand for sustainable and transparent sources of seafood in Australia.”

MSC certification drives demand

After gaining the MSC Standard five years ago, demand for Walker Seafoods’ product surged both nationally and overseas.

Some of Australia’s leading chefs including Neil Perry, Matt Moran and Tetsuya Wakuda prioritised using certified Walker Seafoods fish at their restaurants.

Exports also boomed. US giants including Wholefoods, Google, Facebook and Walmart stocked fresh Walker Seafoods product.

Austrade’s IFAM International Freight Coordinator General, Michael Byrne, says IFAM is helping Australian businesses like Walker Seafoods stay connected with international markets.

“IFAM has been instrumental in reconnecting global supply chains to and from Australia,” Byrne says.

“At IFAM, we are committed to helping Australian businesses and the airfreighting sector as they adjust to the COVID-19 environment.

“The program assists fishers like Walker Seafoods by making sure they can continue to get their high-quality product into overseas markets.”

For more information visit: International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM)

Source: Austrade

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