“You are the Norwegian here, Norway is a huge seafood nation, you have to manage this”. With those words, Erik Tveteraas’ aquaculture career began. Being “the Norwegian” was a great asset, having a certain personal interest in the subject and a family from Stavanger, in the region of Rogaland (a place with a great tradition in seafood), helped what started by chance end up in a daily relationship with aquaculture in his current position as Investment Director at Nutreco.
For him, it has been like a funnel where he started as an analyst who knew very little about aquaculture at the beginning and, step by step, has been learning until he got to where he is today. For us, the keyword is ‘interest’. That “personal interest” that he had at the beginning and that today, has reached the point that one of the personal challenges of this financier is to learn more about biological and scientific-technical knowledge of the fish because “biology is something entirely different from spreadsheets”. So, if you are ever asked: how to talk about passion without mentioning the word passion? The answer is easy: talking about aquaculture with Erik Tveteraas.
Norway, the seafood nation
So, does he get the job because of being “the Norwegian”? Not exactly, although it helped. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh with his master’s degree in International Business and Emerging Markets, Erik started to work in a corporate finance boutique firm in Scotland that was focused exclusively on agriculture and, more specifically, on protein value chains. “If you imagine a funnel if you will, I started quite broad as a generalist within agriculture and aquaculture, but then over time, I grew to have a stronger personal and professional interest in the aquaculture space. And that was partly driven by my Norwegian heritage, coming originally from Norway, a huge seafood and aquaculture nation, it was sort of in my DNA already”, he confesses.
However, that was not all. A little bit by chance, the company started working on mandates within aquaculture over the course of the seven years he spent there. “I was the only Norwegian in the company, the company was managed by Dutch, Brits and Danes, so it came to a point where the inflow of aquaculture deals was greater than other deals in the agriculture space. And they kind of looked at me and said, ‘you are the Norwegian here, Norway is a huge seafood nation, you have to manage this'”. Those were the magic words.
Born in Oslo, that DNA he speaks of was composed of family background “from the region of Rogaland, on the southwest coast of Norway, which is very heavily involved in aquaculture”, and more specifically from Stavanger, where his family is originally from, and where he’s based now (as well as the largest aquafeed company in the world, Skretting, also part of Nutreco). “Growing up, I wasn’t exposed that much to aquaculture other than as an enthusiastic consumer, but through my family legacy, it’s for sure been there”, he sums it up. So, the young analyst with Norwegian DNA was offered the position.
“Thankfully I embraced that with open arms, because that was my personal interest as well, so that was a challenge that I’d like to take”, he says. And that way started the funnel he mentioned before. “Over time, starting out as an analyst, then investment manager, and eventually director, I specialized more and more on aquaculture, and also new alternative aquaculture formats such as land-based farming and offshore farming, closed and semi-closed containment ocean systems, to the point where I had progressed my career in that particular job, I was completely specialized in aquaculture and really loving it”. The path he started there is now at Nutreco NuFrontiers‘ stop.
Investment as a tool for the future
“Nutreco NuFrontiers is what is conventionally known in finance as the corporate venture capital arm of Nutreco, we call it the strategic investment and innovation arm”, Erik Tveteraas tells us. The unit started in 2017 and Erik Tveteraas arrived a couple of years later, in 2019. Before he came on board, they were investing across three investment themes: fish and animal health, fish and animal nutrition, and digital solutions (precision farming) for both aquaculture and livestock, all subjects closely related to their core business of sustainable feed production. Then, in 2019, they expanded the scope “a little bit from thinking what is very closely connected to core business to thinking a bit more beyond the horizon”. That meant, for example, starting to invest in alternative proteins from edible cell-grown meat or fermentation-based meat production, and in alternative aquaculture technologies.
He acknowledges that it is something of a paradox to invest in technologies that can be seen as “disruptive or even cannibalistic to our own feed industry”. But the Investment Director at Nutreco explains it easily: “We think it’s better to be a part of that development, to be a relevant player in that industry trajectory, and also eventually to become a supplier and a partner to companies in the cultured meat and alternative aquaculture space”. Thinking long term and betting on the future, that is venture capital.
Now, the question is: how does this corporate venturing influence aquaculture? “The essence of our investment thesis is to invest in new technologies, startup companies, or companies in the growth phase that can contribute to bringing technology to market, that can make aquaculture more productive, more sustainable, healthier fish, for example, better fish welfare, disease prevention, etc. So, to the extent that our investments help to promote that development, we do influence the aquaculture industry in a positive way”, Erik Tveteraas explains. Although, he also qualifies, “we are only one corporate venture unit with limited funds, so we tend to like to invest with other like-minded investors. It’s not up to ourselves alone but we do think that investment from a large industrial player such as Nutreco is actually very helpful in driving positive development in the industry”.
Aquaculture as the future of healthy and sustainable food
Alone or with others, before placing their investments, they observe and see things such as that alternative farming formats “have a key role to play in meeting the expected growth in demand for the key species we focus on”. For them, that means feeds for about 60 different species, although salmon and shrimp are the main ones. According to Erik, especially on the salmon side, there is a huge and growing demand that conventional supply growth is not able to keep up with. “So, we saw these alternative production formats such as land-based aquaculture, offshore farming, and closed systems in the sea, as production modes that can help bring back more supply to the market and grow aquaculture to the fullest extent of its potential”.
Of course, all that growth potential is closely related to the fact that aquaculture is “widely known and recognized as an efficient way of producing very nutritious and healthy source of protein”. According to him, this does not mean that other proteins are unhealthy, only that fish provides omega-3 and other essential nutrients “that are and should be part of the protein mix of a healthy living style”. Right after saying it, he qualifies “that’s my personal opinion”, but also reminds us of another advantage of farmed fish, “the large, industrialized aquaculture species are extremely efficient biological motors for converting inputs to protein at almost one to one ratio”, he says. And concludes: “The feed conversion ratio really adds a feather in the hat to advance aquaculture as a very sustainable production form”.
And it’s not the only one, before moving on to another topic of conversation, Erik adds one more sustainable advantage of aquaculture: it “can really de-intensify capture fisheries”. What does this mean from an Investment Director’s perspective? “Again, this is species-dependent, but we know that wild catch cannot and should not grow any further in a meaningful way if we are to have healthy, living, sustainable oceans. And there, aquaculture plays a critical role and has grown tremendously fast, it was just a couple of years ago that aquaculture surpassed wild catch capture fisheries in volume terms, and it has the potential to grow further. And I that’s being recognized by an increasing number of investors”.
No people, no success
We’ve talked about investment and how it affects aquaculture, but what about the best value behind this industry? What about the people? Like us at WeAreAquaculture, Erik Tveteraas also believes that people are key to the success of any company, and that is why he values so much the “strong policies within Nutreco in terms of diversity and inclusion”. When he joined, it was his first time in his career at a multinational company. Based in 37 countries around the world, exporting to a lot more, he was curious how what was the organizational culture like internally. That’s why he says it was very pleasing for him to experience coming into the company, that those policies – he even calls them philosophies -, “are not just some fancy writing on a piece of paper that is shelved somewhere, it really is manifest in the organization and practiced to every extent”.
That’s what happens inside his company, but what about outside? “When it comes to externally, I think the human factor is underrated”, Erik claims. Feed is a commodity-based industry where, of course, competing on price and being a cost leader is a competitive advantage. However, according to him, when it comes to research and development initiatives with customers, people are essential, and things such as the development of new products or the market uptake of new functional feeds, for example, would never be possible if the human factor wasn’t there as well. “So, superficially it could appear that we’re working in this extremely commoditized transaction-driven industry but, actually, beneath the surface, the human factor is a lot more important than people both outside and inside the industry and other parts of the value chain realize”.
Coming from a corporate finance background, where establishing and maintaining relationships was a key success factor, he enjoys that part and tries to share it with the rest of the NuFrontiers team. “We work with startup companies and founders with very diverse backgrounds, from all corners of the globe, typically at a very young stage of their companies’ existence and growth, and without having that human factor, it would be very difficult to work together with those companies because you are depending on the human factor for driving a successful venture from their side on a successful investment from our side”.
Challenges and solutions
All that human factor, all the talent and relationships behind the aquaculture industry, will be necessary for the challenges that, according to Nutreco’s Investment Director, the industry will face in the coming years. When asked about them, Erik Tveteraas quickly answers: “How do we produce more from less while still maintaining sustainable growth and increasing fish health or welfare, without any negative impact on the environment”. This is the first, but not the only. He adds that, in general, the industry has not been good enough with communications, so “in terms of engaging with consumers, engaging with public perception and public opinion is a challenge that aquaculture should take up to a larger degree”, and this can “express itself differently, in different markets”. And to finish with the global challenges, he adds another one regarding the stakeholders across the value chain where he considers that there is “a great potential and challenge to collectively improve as well, specifically in scaling novel raw materials”.
“We need to ensure the industry adoption of a much broader gamut of what we call novel ingredients, essentially in brand new types of raw materials, or raw material production forms that we can use effectively in aquaculture diets”, he says. “Because we are quite a commoditized industry, the structural challenges are such that it’s not easy to scale a new raw material because they start from a low scale, it will be typically necessitate a higher price. So, in the way that the microeconomics all along the supply chain works, that’s very difficult to achieve for us as a feed provider alone and we want to work together with farmers to really pull novel raw materials through the value chain”. According to him, “that requires communication and the supply chain working together to really set a target”. That is dependent on people and relationships, just as in corporate venturing.
“What we do, is in one way overarching those challenges”, Nutreco’s Investment Director says, “we see investments and strategic collaboration as tools in a toolbox to promote industry development”. And not only that, Erik Tveteraas sees his work as going beyond the boundaries of the aquaculture sector, but always coming back to it. “As being part of the industry, we can carry the beacon, so to speak, as responsible investors in many of the new technologies and companies developing and derisking to the point where they are more investable by the more typical institutional investors, who might not have the same understanding or comfort with aquaculture as an investment theme because they don’t know it that well”.
With all that in mind, it’s not surprising that when asked about his personal challenges, Erik answers that “on a professional level, just managing our portfolio and being a sparring partner and responsible shareholder together with management in those companies is a very keen challenge and also a focus for me going forward”. But his passion arises when it comes to facing his challenges “a bit more on the personal level”. That’s where Erik tells us that, coming from a financial background, he feels he has had certain limits. “I have the knack of practicing finance, I know my trade when it comes to financial skills, but, of course, in aquaculture, biology doesn’t always do what the spreadsheets think that biology will do”, he tells us. “So, personally, I’m just looking to continuously expand my biological and scientific-technical skillsets aquaculture, both farming practices but also fish biology, and biochemistry itself. That’s something I work with continuously, every single day, and I enjoy it”.
He knows you can’t become an expert on aquaculture biology in a very short time frame, “I think you will never be done learning in aquaculture”, he says, “but at least I’ve started out and enjoyed every step of that journey”. We told you at the beginning, to talk about passion without mentioning the word just talk about aquaculture with Erik Tveteraas. He is the Investment Director who knows that this industry is something entirely different from spreadsheets.
Every day, Nutreco’s 12,300 dedicated employees in more than 37 countries across the globe relentlessly pursue Nutreco’s purpose of Feeding the Future in a way that ensures sustainability is front and center for all Nutreco does. Nutreco’s solutions go beyond nutrition to provide best-in-class advice and technology to help customers produce more food, in a sustainable way, to feed growing populations. With over 100 years of experience, Nutreco is a global leader in animal nutrition through Trouw Nutrition, and in aquaculture through Skretting. Nutreco’s NuFrontiers team works to identify, develop, and invest in next-generation breakthrough innovations throughout the value chain. In 2020, Nutreco had net revenues of €6.4 billion. The company is a subsidiary of SHV Holdings N.V., a family-owned multinational with net sales of €17 billion in 2020.