Leslie Bates and Lorcan Barden

Seafood company Sofrimar was originally set up in 1979 by three French men, before management buyout in 2000


Leslie Bates and Lorcan Barden acquired seafood company Sofrimar in 2000 through a management buyout. The company was originally set up in 1979 by three French men as the Société France Irelande de Maree, which gave rise to the acronym Sofrimar. The company began processing mainly whitefish but diversified into shellfish processing soon after commencement.

Since acquiring Sofrimar, Bates and Barden have focused on continually investing in technology for the seafood sector. To this end, two major capital investment projects have been completed, in 2010 and 2012, with a total spend of €3 million, resulting in Sofrimar doubling its turnover and employee numbers.

The company employs 105 people with a further 200 people working on boats who supply shellfish and whitefish.

Sofrimar achieved a gross profit of €6.02 million in the year ending 2011, up from €5.06 million the previous year. Its pre-tax profits increased from €645,278 to €706,646 during the same period.

France is the main export country, accounting for 40 per cent of turnover. Export sales to the Far East and, in particular, South Korea amount to just 30 per cent of total turnover.

Sofrimar received the Seafood Exporter of the Year award in 2007 and again in 2011.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
The collapse of the Korean whelk meat market offered huge obstacles to surmount. It was necessary to reduce dependence on one key product line while concurrently looking to market diversification to ensure sufficient demand.

What were the best and worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
Pierre Dufour, the previous owner, having worked in the French seafood industry for most of his adult life, offered excellent coaching and advice. He is still a pillar of strength for the company. During the Celtic Tiger years, advice in relation to investments did not prove profitable.

What are the biggest challenges you face now?
The business is reliant on a continual stock of raw material, required in consistent volumes, large enough to meet the targeted growth rates of the company. The very nature of the business makes this a constant challenge. Competition from countries which operate from a very low cost base, such as Chile, China and Vietnam, is also testing.

Has your Irishness contributed to your success?
Ireland is recognised as a clean and green country with a global reputation for the quality of its food products. The cleanliness of the waters surrounding our coast, particularly the Atlantic Ocean, enhances our seafood sector and associated end products.

Are there any imminent milestones for the company for the 12 months ahead?
There is a continual focus on market development and expansion. At present the company is targeting new markets in part of the Far East and is also in the initial stages of moving into the Russian market.

In conjunction with the Bord Bia fellowship programme, a full-time graduate will represent the company in Russia, the suggested location is Moscow. This strategy of local representation has proved beneficial in the past as it allows for significant networking and on-site research in assessing the potential client base.