Mada Fish is a unique, 100% sustainability-focussed enterprise. Located in various locations in Madagascar, this fishery has a number of unique aspects to it. PROJECTile's remit was a sprawling one that worked with the brand in an intensive way for an 24-month period.
Mada Fish's sustainable fish and seafood enterprise has a number of distinct business pillars. Located in various rural/isolated locations in Madagascar, firstly, there is the “wild catch” fishing: buying fish caught by isolated fishing communities using age-old fishing techniques from small sail-powered boats with low environmental impact.
And then there is the more recent string to its bow: Africa’s only eel farm that sustainably farms eel, throwing back more young fish than it harvests under the beady eye of one of the world's most highly respected experts on eel.
Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries, a place where the majority of people earn less in real terms than previous generations did in 1960. Torn apart by a civil war that lasted 10 years, the economy and infrastructure suffered utter neglect.
Now, Mada Fish isn’t a new endeavour. But, when the former owner who established it some 20 years before “did a runner” with all the cash, the new progressive government of reconciliation put the project out to tender in 2017. Sustainability and ESG were at the heart of the criteria upon which tenders would be considered. And, when an EU/Mauritian consortium won the bid in 2018, they invited a former client of PROJECTile to join them as CEO, which he did.
One of his first executive decisions was to bring in PROJECTile with a fairly broad brief. But there were a number of key aspects to the remit:
Totally reinvent the brand with a view to the real value its unique fish and seafood offer, producing relevant branding, collateral and messaging
Help re-formulate the B2B product offer, most specifically with a view to more lucrative EU markets. Part of this remit involved identifying relevant PR opportunities in Europe and, later, helping to secure relevant PR agencies in key EU territories
Focus on the ESG comms and storytelling: elaborate the new Mada Fish CSR strategy
Undertake liaison with Blue Ventures and MSC relating to the seminal agreement to use Mada Fish as a key case for an MSC-accredited octopus fishery in Africa
Work directly with the CEO on NPD, strategic partnerships and representing the brand at key B2B events
Manage internal and external comms relating to other "kite marks" Mada Fish was already pursuing (e.g. Fair Trade accreditation)
The rather unwieldy remit made all the more challenging by working across great distances and with remote regions lacking in much of the infrastructure we take for granted elsewhere in the world—it was clear that it was going to have to start with the basics.
Who are Mada Fish? What do they do? How do they do it? And, most importantly, why are they doing it?
Subsequent to delivering a work plan with three tiers of priority, work began in earnest for the most pressing needs: a brand identity and the highest priority collateral. For example, though it may come as a shock to those who assume all of today’s business is done digitally, in the unique and unusual world of fish and seafood, things like print collateral that are easily understood by its truly international markets remain key.
Thus, PROJECTile dispatched Rob Streeter to Madagascar to capture compelling photographs and videos of the fish and seafood products, the processing facilities fully compliant with EU standards and, most importantly, the people of the communities whose livelihoods Mada Fish underscores. Needless to say, he did so brilliantly.
Taking these assets as a starting point, they were mapped onto evolving hierarchies of messaging—in such collateral as the high-priority print collateral—as well as broader storytelling about the brand.
Armed with new collateral and a good line in storytelling patter, relevant PROJECTile people accompanied Mada Fish to a number of key seafood and fisheries events —such as CONEXMAR in Vigo—to network with existing and new potential clients and gather feedback informing both market strategy and the potential business opportunities for existing and new products.
The fairs targeted were not random, but focussed on specific market intelligence focussing on specific fish and seafood products such as octopus and eel.
Eel Meet Again
So, for those who don’t know about eel—and there’s no reason anyone except those in the industry should—Mada Fish’s unique sustainable eel farm is a much bigger deal than might be understood at first glance.
Eel is a much desired delicacy in many parts of the world. For example, the majority of the Mada Fish farmed eel is sent to the Netherlands where it becomes the smoked eel that the Dutch love. Great.
But, in certain other parts of the world, baby eel, often called “glass eel”, are particularly sought after, most notably in Northern Spain and Japan. But here’s the rub: in both regions, indigenous eel species have been almost entirely depleted by overfishing, resulting in very strict quotas on the periods in which fishing can occur and concomitant astronomical prices. For example, these baby eel in Spain—known as “angulas”—can command €1000 per kg.
Part of the allure of these unique, almost transparent, little eels is that eel cannot be bred in captivity—one of the reasons Mada Fish releases a proportion of its farmed adult eels into the wild each year. These adult eels swim out to engage with their wild counterparts in the mystical mating rituals of ocean eel before their spawn head back towards estuaries where they hide until adolescence. And, it’s during this migration season that rural Madagascan fishing communities—usually the women and girls—catch them in fine nets from the beaches.
However, African longfin eel (anguilla mossambica), is neither endangered nor particularly sought after locally. In fact, the reason these communities traditionally catch them is that they are the “cheap” protein to sustain families who need to sell their more locally favoured catches for income. Little did they know that they might be sitting on an economic goldmine.
Embedding ESG and CSR
From the very process by which the new owners arrived at Mada Fish, sustainability and ethical business practice were core pillars of the business moving forward.
Mada Fish introduced a swathe of direct ethical business practices. For example, during the “on” season, it always buys local fisherpeople’s catches, regardless of the desirability of what they have caught and, during the “off” season it underscores the educational work undertaken in collaboration with Blue Ventures aimed at allowing ocean stocks to replenish by providing preferred staple foods in partnership with a Swedish organisation to ensure local people do not have to decide between food poverty and environmental priorities.
In addition to storytelling about such aspects of the business, PROJECTile was also tasked with working closely with the CEO in developing a strategy with tangible CSR impact: from improving educational opportunities for local youth and mobile dentistry to bringing derelict sports facilities dating from the French colonial era back into viable use.
Over the roughly 24 months of the project, PROJECTile delivered across a broad range of areas within its remit. Some examples include:
Delivering a new brand identity including ToV, creative copy, print and digital assets and collateral and discrete B2B campaigns
Corporate communications to existing stakeholders and key partners such as NGOs (e.g. Blue Ventures, MSC) and local business influencers (e.g. British Chamber of Commerce)
Multilingual copy and comms in relevant languages to key target markets (Spanish, French and Japanese)
NPD and market opportunity research and representing the brand at key international trade fairs
Directly brokering opportunities. Having identified the Spanish market as a priority key market, PROJECTile brokered introductions with key Spanish luxury outlets (e.g El Corte Inglés) as well as securing and managing PR opportunities. For example, in collaboration with an identified Spanish PR specialist, it secured an opportunity for “hip” Spanish chefs (including a Michelin-starred chef) to sample the “more affordable African angulas”