ESVA fish fingers hook the Baltic market

  • 2000-10-26
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - ESVA Fish Production, the biggest fish finger producer in the Baltics, is an example of a company where expansion to the European markets will increase with Estonia's membership in the EU. Although the company and its raw materials have all the quality assurances necessary to export to the Western markets, membership in the EU would save the company from paying high taxes on exports. "We do not have to pay customs duties, but export taxes on our products range from 15 percent to 40 percent," explained Tauno Tats, chairman of the board at ESVA. "This means that we have to compete in unfair conditions."

At present the company is concentrating on strengthening its positions in the Baltic markets. Two thirds of the company's production is sold in the Baltics and 15 percent is exported to Finland. ESVA's only competitor in the Baltics is a Lithuanian company Viciunai.

Tats believes that the rising prices of meat will promote the sales of fish products. "People are starting to understand how healthy fish products are," said Tats.

ESVA has only about 10 big wholesale clients and a favorable location in Tallinn on the territory of the Port Paljassaare, which is also close to a railway network.

Besides its main product, fish fingers, ESVA also produces different kinds of fish burgers and snacks, breaded mussels and breaded cauliflower.

The history of the 10-year-old company is complicated. It was established in Tallinn in 1988 as a Soviet-Finnish joint venture to feed the whole Russian market.

But in 1992 the Finnish partner Valio abandoned its share. By 1993 the company went bankrupt because it no longer received cheap fuel and raw materials from Russia and for that reason was unable to pay a loan to Valio.

During bankruptcy proceedings in 1994-1995 ESVA worked at maximum capacity until it was bought by a small Norwegian company, Moon Holding, which improved the marketing side of the company. It was forced to lay off much of its workforce during the financial crisis in Russia.

In 1999 local food producer Osel Foods bought the company and became the biggest food concern in Estonia. Osel Foods, a producer of beverages and ketchup, now wants to list on the Tallinn Stock Exchange.

Today ESVA is the market leader on the frozen fish market in the Baltics, and its products are guaranteed by the Hazard Analyses of the Critical Control Points (HACCP) System, which allows it to export to all European Union countries. The fishery's raw material, white fish like Alaska pollock, hake, blue whiting, is mostly imported from Iceland, Norway and EU countries. The 130 employees of the company work in two shifts. The maximum capacity of the fishery at present is 10,000 tons of frozen fish a year. The company's turnover in 1999 was 92 million kroons ($5 million) but should reach 100 million kroons by 2001 thanks to a number of new products and lower cost of new local raw materials, said Tats.

"Until today the production was mostly oriented on mass production," said Tats. "We used mostly ocean fish that was already partly preprocessed by our suppliers. In the future we want to start using local fish, which is much cheaper, and process it ourselves."

At present ESVA has 15 different products and it runs at only 50 percent capacity.

"In the future we are planning to produce more products and raise the volume of production. There is a big disproportion between the volume of sales and the actual capacity," said Tats. He said that although the cost of labor in Estonia is cheaper than in Sweden or Denmark, for example, the production of fish fingers is automated and does not require much manual labor. "If not in price, our products still have a lot of advantages. We do not use preservatives in our products, and the level of fat is very low, about 1.1 percent of the product's total weight," said Tats.

"If we were to invade new European Union markets, we would go there with totally different products that we already have prepared in our nomenclature," Tats confirmed.

Tarmo Toomet from Balbiino, whose task is to market ESVA products, said that the sales of ESVA products is successful because Estonians are used to local products, especially when they have had it for a long time.