A conversation with…

Aritza Goyenechea Echevarria, Echebastar Deep-Freezing/Distribution Plant Manager

What is deep-freezing and what is its added value?

Deep-freezing means freezing the product as quickly as possible to conserve all the organoleptic and nutritional properties of fresh fish.

By deep-freezing the product quickly to -60°C and maintaining this temperature, when it defrosts, it has the same colour, smell, flavour and nutritional properties as freshly caught fish.

One of the key characteristics of our fish is its freshness. Contrary to the widespread belief that frozen fish is inferior in quality, by deep-freezing, the resulting product is as fresh as it was just before being deep-frozen. After being defrosted correctly the fish still conserves all its organoleptic properties.

What role does the Erletxe (Galdakao) deep-freezing plant play in the company’s production process?

The Erletxe deep-freezing plant was conceived as the last link in ECHEBASTAR’s whole value chain. This chain consists of fishing, deep-freezing, transport and storage, and sale of the product to the end consumer. Also, the plant allows us to receive direct feedback from retailers, distributors, the hospitality sector and end consumers.

We have a fleet that can deep-freeze to -60°C on board, Superfreezer containers providing control over logistics, the processing plant in Vigo and the Erletxe plant for preparing our orders. We guarantee FULL TRACEABILITY and our entire chain is certified to the highest quality standards (IFS, Chain of Custody, MSC, etc.).

What is its background?

Echebastar made a strategic decision by building Alakrana with its capacity to deep-freeze to -60°C on board, allowing for the diversification of our products and markets. We use, on the one hand, traditional freezing for producing canned food and, on the other hand, deep-freezing to make products for direct human consumption.

Another important milestone was the construction of our next fishing boats, which also employ deep-freezing technology. These allowed us to increase our production capacity for this type of product and standardise the quality by forming specialised working groups.

Lastly, we decided to invest in a processing and marketing plant to complete the production process carried out on the boats. This has given us full control over the batches of fish processed by the different boats and allows us to provide continuous feedback from the plant to the boats. Also, with the plant we can interact directly with retailers, distributors and the end consumer and monitor the acceptance of the product and its positioning on the market. All this collective effort led to the creation of the “Alakrana” brand.

The whole production chain is monitored by Echebastar’s own staff. And by working with strategic partners we can offer a wide range of products, from defrosted refrigerated products, deep-frozen products, semi-preserved products such as smoked products and preserved tuna in cans, jars or pouches.

There has been a continuous increase in the production of deep-frozen fish and its presence on both national and international markets.

What are the main obstacles you face on a daily basis?

The main problem we have is the variability of the fish as it’s not all uniform in terms of size, quality etc. As my former manager of a cannery used to say, “We’re not making screws here”, and for this reason we have to be flexible in production and in the marketing department to make sure that our product meets the needs of each type of customer.

However, with the supervisory work on the boats and in the processing plant in Vigo, the fish that arrives at the Erletxe plant is classified extremely efficiently.

What challenges do you see on the horizon?

We have to be flexible and agile to respond to change and to continue offering our clients what they want. To do so, we’re working on the development of new business lines and new products, with a constant focus on continuous improvement, food safety and sustainability.

We are also committed to quality certificates such as IFS Food that guarantee our customers the quality and food safety of our processes and products. And, of course, with the MSC Chain of Custody we are continuing the great pioneering work made by the fishery in obtaining MSC Certification.

How have these turbulent pandemic times affected you?

Our first priority was to guarantee the safety of our workers. I really want to highlight the effort made by all to achieve this. Also, our staff on land switched to teleworking which was effective.

You have to remember that the pandemic seriously affected the hospitality sector, which is a key pillar of our business, but this was compensated in part by an increase in retailers. Also there was a significant increase in our online sales during the pandemic.

The fact that we were able to offer our products online, safely and ensuring a fast delivery, earned us the loyalty of many consumers who have got used to shopping in this way. They are still to this day real “Alakrana Tunalovers”.

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