Barramundi farm taps new markets to combat COVID crisis

The world’s largest barramundi producer is now selling direct to the public after losing its restaurant and export markets due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MainStream Aquaculture, which produced more than 40 million fish last year, has more than doubled its retail sales of its premium Infinity Blue barramundi, and established an online store and commenced weekly farm gate sales at its Wyndham farm, just 30 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD.

MainStream managing director, Boris Musa, said while the pandemic had “significantly disrupted” the business’s traditional supply channels, including exports to 25 countries, it had accelerated plans to build a new customer base through direct sales.

“It was always an aspiration to develop that side of the business to forge a closer connection with our  customers. The supply chain dislocation caused by COVID-19 has provided us with an opportunity to create direct consumer channels,” Musa said.

“Smart people say you should never waste a crisis, and this has been a dramatic event that required decisive action and new way of operating to keep the lights on and staff employed. We are a far better business now and are poised to emerge stronger after COVID-19.

“One of the most exciting aspects has been the large percentage of repeat customers. They are obviously enjoying the product and our meal suggestions. We have had some really large orders, with people spending upwards of $500.”

While customers would typically pay about $180 per kg for the premium Infinity Blue barramundi at Australia’s top restaurants, online and farm gate prices are as little as $35 per kg, with delivery from farm to plate possible a day after harvest.

Farm gate customers also have the opportunity to catch a rare glimpse of MainStream’s Golden Barramundi, a collector’s item, with fish keepers paying up to US$20,000 a fish to keep the animals in private aquariums.

Musa said the business was embarking on a selective breeding program with the intention of adding the Golden Barramundi to its retail menu.

“We have isolated the genes that will enable us to produce the fish on a reliable basis. We are expecting huge demand because it has a whiter fillet and incredible taste, and also because of its striking gold colouring,” he said.

While adapting to its own business challenges, MainStream has also stepped up its philanthropic commitments since the pandemic, joining forces with seafood wholesale partners in Sydney to donate produce to out-of-work hospitality workers, and Melbourne-based charity From Us 2 You to help feed the homeless.

“It was a very simple decision to help out during these difficult times,” Musa said.