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Shared business philosophy pays off

NANAIMO – St. Jean's Cannery in Nanaimo buys Raincoast Trading.

Mix a 50-year-old cannery and smokehouse with a Lower Mainland seafood marketer and you have the right blend for a multi-million dollar venture.

St. Jean's Cannery and Smokehouse of Nanaimo has bought Raincoast Trading of North Delta.

The purchase, backed by Canadian Western Bank, happened in December.

"The parent company, North Delta Seafoods, came to us and said we'd like you to buy our company," said Gerard St. Jean, St. Jean's company owner. "I went, whoa, this is pretty big, what's the deal?"

St. Jean's, in business since 1961, and the owners of North Delta have had a long-standing relationship. North Delta's owners were making large purchases in the fishing industry that would require their full attention. Selling Raincoast would free up management resources.

Raincoast Trading contracted St. Jean's to can some of their products and was already one of the cannery's largest customers.

Nirmal Sandhu, St. Jean's plant manager, and Kim Stockburn, Raincoast Trading brand manager, had developed a friendship through their eight-year working relationship.

Not only was there a comfortable working relationship established between the two companies, Raincoast had a lot to offer when it came to marketing and distribution.

Stockburn has developed markets for Raincoast products across the U.S. and Canada, which will pave the way for some St. Jean's products into those markets.

"We took over the whole thing, lot stock and barrel," St. Jean said.

The two companies are now in the process of deciding what St. Jean's products can be added or rebranded into the Raincoast line, including St. Jean's naturally-smoked oysters.

"We already were canning all of their tuna - for North Delta - we were already producing their product," St. Jean said. "The people who are here in our office now are a really good backup for Kim, so it's a really good fit."

Sandhu said another reason Delta approached St. Jean's with the sale proposal was due to the companies' shared philosophies toward business and production. North Delta will continue to supply fish to Raincoast Trading.

"We have similar types of ideas about what we want to do, the work we do and the work they did," Sandhu said. "We take pride in what we do and the products we produce for our customers."

Raincoast, which was the marketing and distribution arm for North Delta Seafoods sustainable fisheries products, currently markets about $4 million worth of products annually. St. Jean's current annual sales total about $6 million, primarily through its chain of four stores, local grocery chains and online sales.

Marketing independently would have meant competing with Raincoast for retailer shelf space. St. Jean is looking forward to accessing retail markets in places like San Francisco, Calif., where Raincoast already operates.

"They would contract out the production and then do the distribution," St. Jean said. "We at St. Jean's have never had a marketing side. We've just grown and that was going to be the next step. When that opportunity came to me I just went, wow, this is the whole package."

The Raincoast acquisition also gives St. Jean's the ability to produce and distribute directly from facilities on the Lower Mainland and a warehouse in the U.S., which is less expensive and more efficient than shipping from the Island, plus a staff already well experienced with sales brokerage and cross border shipping.

"It's a good way to expand," St. Jean said.

St. Jean and Sandhu expect to achieve annual sales of $15 million between the two product lines within five years.

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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