MANILA, September 25
, 2004  (STAR) By Rocel C. Felix - Fisher Farms Inc. (FFI) is poised to become a major global player in the processed tilapia (St. Peterís fish) export business with the opening this December of the countryís first word-class, state-of-the-art fish processing plant in Pulilan, Bulacan.

By January, 2005, the company will be shipping out to lucrative markets such as mainland China and its territory Hong Kong and the United States, an initial batch of frozen aquaculture products such as breaded tilapia fillets, spring rolls, siomai, sausages and longganisas.

"We have been getting a lot of positive feedback from potential buyers weíve met in international food and trade fairs and we are confident that our products are acceptable," said FFI general manager Alvin G. Gimelo.

Aside from China, Hong Kong and the US, the other countries that have earlier expressed interest in buying FFI value-added products are the Middle East and European Union member-countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

In the recently-concluded 6th International Symposium on Tilapia in Aquaculture in Manila that attracted more than 400 local and foreign participants, FFI drew a lot of attention from both competitors such as China as well as traders.

While the FFI Pulilan fish processing facility has the capacity to produce and supply a huge volume of the widest range of premium quality, fresh frozen and processed aquaculture products, the company will first focus on its fresh, frozen tilapia fillets which appears to have the biggest growth potential. Aside from tilapia products, FFI also produces bangus (milkfish) and hito (catfish) value-added products.

Gimelo said that since the company opened in 2001, its aim was to penetrate not just the domestic market, but more importantly, the growing global market for processed tilapia products.

"From the start, our goal was really to focus on the international market. When we start operations in December, 80 percent of our products will go to the export market while 20 percent will be for our local clients," said Gimelo.

Fresh tilapia fetches about $12 a kilo in the US market while frozen or processed tilapia fillet costs about $11 per kilo. The per capita consumption in the US is about 8.2 kilos per year.

Next to milkfish, tilapia is the most important fish cultured in the Philippines. Export efforts however, have not really taken off as local production has not kept pace with domestic demand. While the country is the third largest tilapia producer worldwide, it has not fully exploited the international market. The other big tilapia producers are China, Southeast Asia, South and Central America, and the Middle East.

Currently, FFI supplies local customers, including groceries, supermarkets, fastfood chains such as Jollibee, restaurants, distributors, hotels, institutions and households.

What makes FFI stand out, according to Gimelo is that customers are assured of premium quality in every step of the fish processing schedule.

First of all, the company is backed by a complete breeder facility, internal grow-out farms, modular fish growing system and a wide market network that could reach both local and international clients.

"We have an integrated operation. We buy back from our customers their tilapia harvest. We control the various phases of operations, including the distribution of aquafeeds to the grandparent and parent stock fish breeding farms. Itís a total package, we also provide technical assistance, we conduct various seminars nationwide to facilitate technology transfer," said Emmanuel del Mundo, vice-president for operations marketing of Feedmix Nutrition Specialist, the sister company of FFI which is the countryís biggest aquafeed producer.

Gimelo said FFI invested heavily in research and development and in market survey and development before going into the export trade.

"We wanted to make sure that we are more than 100 percent ready when we go into the export business. We did a lot of research on the value-added products that we wanted to develop, we conducted survery to determine which products have the most potential. We ensured that our operations can be sustained, that we will have a steady and reliable supply of raw materials," noted Gimelo.

"We are prepared to meet head-on the challenge of making our mark in the processed tilapia export trade," said Gimelo.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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