Amid the export turmoil caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, one Far North Queensland seafood company has found a new market with help from TIQ.
Thursday Island business Torres Straits Seafood has also shown that adaptability and ingenuity are vital to long-term export success.
The company recently repurposed its live lobster facility in Cairns to supply lobster tails to a new supermarket client in Hong Kong, after TIQ connected the two.
Torres Straits Seafood manager Sonia Einersen said the company had been hit hard after exports to mainland China were suspended in January.
‘We’ve basically been shut since this outbreak began, so this deal was a glimmer of hope and we’re hoping that it will be something that continues,’ Ms Einersen said.
‘TIQ put us in contact with a company in Hong Kong that was looking for individually packed lobster tails to go into a supermarket chain.
‘Individually packed product was not something that we’d done before, so we had to find a quick solution to be able to do that.’
Demand for premium imported seafood in China collapsed on the eve of Chinese New Year 2020 – traditionally a peak demand period – as the COVID-19 outbreak forced China into lockdown.
Ms Einersen said filling the order was a new challenge for the company, but one they took on with determination.
‘Lobster tails have spikes on the underside of the tail so if we tried to vacuum seal just the tails, we would end up with holes in the bag,’ she said.
‘We sourced a special food-grade board plus heavier plastic bags and borrowed a vacuum-bag machine to pack about 540 lobster tails in a day.
‘Eventually we found a way to streamline the process so the next time we should be able to be able to do it in a few hours instead of it taking us all day!’
Ms Einersen said the company had now applied for a government grant to purchase their own vacuum-pack machine to fill future orders.
TIQ’s Acting CEO Richard Watson said Torres Straits Seafood’s new deal was a great example of how TIQ could help Queensland exporters.
‘We’re thrilled that one of our food and ag advisors has been able to connect a regional Queensland exporter with a new client in a major market like Hong Kong,’ Mr Watson said.
‘This is the kind of expert insight and networks our global team can offer.
‘It’s never been more important for TIQ to be supporting Queensland exporters on a number of levels as they face the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.’
Ms Einersen said she was extremely grateful to TIQ for reaching out to Torres Straits Seafood and for their support.
‘If we can keep exporting lobster tails to this new customer, we have some other ideas for more value-added products, whether it be fish or something else,’ she said.
Torres Straits Seafood is no stranger to snapping up new opportunities.
‘Lobster has a fairly significant closure during the season – there’s a 4-month break where we used to have little to no income,’ Ms Einersen said.
‘When existing customers started asking if we could export coral trout, we decided to diversify and add fish to our exports, which we’ve now been doing successfully for a couple of years.’
Torres Straits Seafood has been exporting live lobster to China since the early 1990s and expanded into live coral trout in 2017.
The company buys from fishing boats operating in the Torres Strait and in waters from Cooktown to Mackay, exporting its product from Cairns.
The exported lobster tails went on sale in the Sogo Department Store supermarket in Hong Kong.
Supporting Queensland exporters is a priority under the Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017-2022.
You can learn more about the support available to exporters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic on our TIQ industry recovery package page.