ANCHORAGE - Business at the once-floundering Alaska Seafood International is now going swimmingly, according to Russell Schreck, the company's new chief executive officer and board chairman.
The company in early December sent air shipments of Alaska-caught salmon, halibut and cod to markets in England and the Lower 48. On Dec. 18, ASI sent its first 30,000-pound container of processed fish south by ship to Seattle, then by truck to an Illinois distributor that supplies restaurant chains and institutions.
In January, a major West Coast grocery chain and a membership-based warehouse retailer will carry the value-added seafood as appetizers, dinners and salmon steaks under private labels and with the Great Alaskan Seafood Co. brand name, Schreck told the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
Schreck declined to name the two new major buyers until the products reach the retailers' shelves next month.
"ASI is for real," said Schreck, who took over the South Anchorage company earlier this year. "There is new energy here and things are going extremely well."
No one could have said as much just a few months ago.
Shortly after construction was completed in early 2000, Bank Sinopac, a major Taiwanese investor, did not extend a promised line of credit for operating capital, nearly sinking the $125 million, state-backed seafood-manufacturing plant.
The near-failure fueled critics, including established Seattle fisheries companies, which said Anchorage was too costly a place to process fish.
In a complex restructuring deal, Sunrise Capital Partners LP put $5 million in equity into the ailing company and arranged a line of credit to begin operations last spring, in time for the summer fishing season in Alaska.
In return, Sunrise became majority owner, followed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, Bank Sinopac, and a group of individual investors, including founder Howard Benedict. Sunrise is associated with the New York investment firm Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin, which specializes in turning around troubled companies.
Schreck and a management team with expertise in food manufacturing and fisheries were brought in, replacing former senior managers. A sales staff also was established in markets in the Lower 48, Schreck said.
"There were no salespeople before I got here," Schreck said.
New sales staffers are aggressive and have landed major accounts, including Sterling, Ill.-based DOT Inc., a distributor that sells to restaurants, colleges, schools, hospitals, military installations and corporations that provide meals to employees, Schreck said.
"Having salespeople where the markets are is very comforting to us," said Jim McMillan, AIDEA's deputy director of credit.
The company has 150 workers on the payroll in Anchorage and will add a second shift and about 20 new employees soon, Schreck said.
AIDEA, a state-backed agency, has invested about $50 million in ASI and owns title to the company's buildings and land, which are valuable assets should the seafood venture fold.
McMillan said the company's once-grim outlook has changed.
"There have been some nay-sayers out there and some bumps in the road," McMillan said. "Since Sunrise has come in, (ASI) seems to be moving forward."