With new managers, ASI 'for real'

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
Business at the once floundering Alaska Seafood International is now going swimmingly, according to Russell Schreck, the company’s new chief executive officer and chairman of the board.

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 which supplies restaurant chains and institutions.

In January, Schreck said, 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 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 ... we will be a very dominate player in the seafood marketplace.’’

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 seafood manufacturing plant.

The near-failure fueled critics, namely established Seattle fisheries companies, who argued Anchorage was too costly a place to process fish.

Others believed otherwise.

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 the 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.

The new sales staff is aggressive and has landed major accounts, including a big-box membership club, a major grocery chain and 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.

The market is growing for Alaska seafood, and ASI can and will be a major supplier, Schreck said.

"We can produce hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish a year, no problem,’’ Schreck said.

"Having salespeople where the markets are is very comforting to us,’’ said Jim McMillan, AIDEA’s deputy director of credit.

AIDEA 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.

But McMillan said the company’s once-grim outlook has changed.

"There have been some naysayers out there and some bumps in the road," McMillan said. "Since Sunrise has come in (ASI) seems to be moving forward.’’

McMillan said the company was immediately put at a huge disadvantage by having investor problems early on.

"Any business would have had the same problem, the rug pulled out from under their financial feet while they were ramping up," McMillan said.

AIDEA, a state agency that promotes economic development through long-term loans, wants to see the business succeed and create new jobs, McMillan said.

And that’s what the seafood company is now doing.

The company has 150 workers on the payroll in Anchorage, and will add a second shift and about 20 new employees after Christmas, Schreck said.

"It’s a whole new ball game," said Schreck, pointing out the phrase that is plastered on signs throughout the South Anchorage facility and on employees’ uniform hats.

12/30/2001 - 8:00pm