Big interview: Espersen chief executive Klaus Nielsen on his appetite for Grimsby seafood firm buy-out

The chief executive of the Danish company closing in on completing the buy-out of a major Grimsby fish factory has told how it has been a long-harboured ambition to enter the UK processing market.

Klaus Nielsen has headed up Espersen for more than 20 years, with British retailers being the £350 million turnover company’s biggest outlet. Now the undisclosed deal agreed to purchase Iceland Seafood UK looks set to open new doors for the company, while mitigating Brexit impacts, as it realises a long-held strategic intention.

“This acquisition is more than just a business decision; it is a commitment to our customers, our employees, and the industry,” Mr Nielsen said. “We are excited about the acquisition of Iceland Seafood UK Ltd and the myriad of opportunities it presents to Espersen. While our roots and dedication lie firmly with our existing customers and partners, this acquisition reaffirms our commitment to growth. We believe that our new UK facility and its leadership team will play a critical role in shaping Espersen’s future on the UK market, allowing us to serve our customers better and fortify our position as a local supplier.”

Read more: £5 million netted to back major Grimsby seafood projects creating hundreds of jobs

Further explaining the appetite for the loss-making operation on Great Grimsby Business Park – launched as Covid hit, uniting the existing town business of Havelok with ISI’s West Yorkshire operation in the 100,000 sq ft former Five Star Fish premises, Mr Nielsen said: “Our biggest market is in the UK already, and for a while it has been a desire for the company to find a foothold in the UK so we can serve our customers even better than we do today. It has all been about finding the right place at the right time. We have been talking to ISI for a little while, we thought now the road is a little more stable, it was the right time to do it.

“We knew it was for sale, it was publicly up for sale more than half a year ago, and it is quite a nice plant. Not brand new, but not old, and we see great potential in it, while at the same time it has very strong management.”

Klaus Nielsen, chief executive of Espersen, the Danish company set to complete the buy-out of Iceland Seafood UK.
Now crossing the North Sea: Klaus Nielsen, chief executive of Espersen, the Danish company set to complete the buy-out of Iceland Seafood UK.

A team of between 150 and 180 will be welcomed, should all go well in the coming days as the deal is completed, with Espersen UK Ltd set to be the new entity.

“We hope to grow the business, hopefully there will be more hiring going on in the months to come,” Mr Nielsen said, revealing how the Copenhagen-headquartered team had been one of the suitors in the initially failed sales process late last year.

Talks were stopped due to the “ongoing turbulence in the markets,” with time working for both.

“It is not a quick fix, it is public information there have been losses in the previous ownership, and we will give ourselves a couple of years,” Mr Nielsen said of the financial situation. Losses of £12 million led to ISI’s divestment decision, and more followed. “We hope to see great improvements in 2024 and hope to be in the black in 2025,” he added. “That’s what we have on the agenda.”

An employer of 3,300, mostly in Europe with production plants in Denmark, Poland and Lithuania – as well as Vietnam – and sales offices in many more countries, Espersen has operated in the processing market since its inception in 1937, in Ronne, the principal port town of Bornhorn, a Danish island in the Baltic Sea.

Cod and haddock are long-term specialisms, with pollock a later addition, while seabass and seabream are opportunities harboured in Grimsby that the team is looking to embrace

Of its markets, Mr Nielsen said: “We have mainly been in retail, we have been for many years, but one of the possibilities we see is food service and we have had talks with some of the businesses, and have high hopes we will be able to get something done there.

“The acquisition brings important growth. We will add somewhere between 10 per cent and 15 per cent to the business as it is now, and with the growth that is planned we see it as quite important for us when we achieve it.”

Iceland Seafood UK, formerly Five Star Fish, on Great Grimsby Business Park, alongside the A180. Could there be a new name for the prominent site?
The Iceland Seafood UK site – formerly Five Star Fish – on Great Grimsby Business Park, alongside the A180 entrance to Grimsby. It could very soon be Espersen UK Ltd.

A smooth integration is now being planned, which will take “dedication and a collective effort from both teams”. “With our shared passion for excellence and industry expertise, we are confident in achieving a seamless transition”, Mr Nielsen said. “With the solid foundation of Iceland Seafood UK Ltd being integrated into our family, we are optimally positioned to tackle the evolving demands of the fish industry in the UK market.

“The coming year promises to be one of growth and fortified partnerships.”

Despite a centenary for Espersen looming in the next decade, Mr Neilsen is only the fourth CEO, and the first not of the Espersen name – having taken the helm from third generation Henrik in 2001. Stability, integrity and responsibility are values said to characterise the business’ leadership.

Glen Mathews, managing director of Iceland Seafood UK Ltd, added: “Joining hands with a renowned name like Espersen is a significant milestone for us. We are excited to contribute to the legacy of quality and trust that Espersen represents and introduce this on a larger scale to the UK fish market.”

Original artice – https://business-live.co.uk/all-about/yorkshire-humber

Scroll to Top