Catch of the Day
By Andrew Snook
Hardworking Quebec seafood processor leverages superior product quality and versatile packaging machinery to meet growing consumer demand
For over 35 years, Frandon Seafoods has been supplying high-quality fish products to the people of Quebec and beyond. Starting out as a small distributor catering to Montreal’s food-service industry in 1986, the company has since undergone multiple expansions.
Frandon Seafoods entered the retail market in 2009, and less than a decade later was acquired by Premium Brands. Frandon is now an importer wholesaler distributor supplying primarily the Quebec and eastern Ontario markets.
Frandon services all sectors of the food industry including product development and innovation. Based in Saint-Léonard Que., the company employs more than 100 employees working two productions shifts (days and evenings), as well as a night shift for sanitation.
“We source our products from around the world,” says Éric Bissonnette, managing director for Frandon Seafoods, “but we like to put an emphasis on local products like lobsters, crab, Nordic shrimp, turbot and halibut.
“There are still lots of products that we need to market from our own waters to local markets,” Bissonnette says. “We serve food-service customers, large and small retailers, regional distributors, fishmongers, manufacturers, home meal replacement products, and more.”
Since being acquired by Premium Brands in 2019, the combined resources of the two companies have allowed Frandon to grow considerably, taking advantage of additional capital and a coast-to-coast distribution network.
In the past year, Frandon imported and sold over 10 million pounds of fish and seafood.
“We are part of a Quebec seafood distributor list that Premium Brands acquired in the latest couple of years which, combined, is making us the biggest in the province,” Bissonnette says. “Our ecosystem is very strong and very beneficial for all the different entities.”
Bissonnette adds that his knowledgeable team is also a big reason for the company’s success.
“We have a lot of experienced people in our organization,” he says. “Our knowledge of the products and the industry, combined with our variety of products and, most of all, our service excellence, is what really sets us apart from the competition.”
With production and processing of fish products currently comprising about 35 per cent of the company’s business, Frandon is continuously investing in its processing and packaging lines at its state-of-the-art 45,000-square-foot production facility.
“We are committed to becoming the biggest processor in the province,” Bissonnette says adding that Premium Brands has been extremely supportive of all of the company’s initiatives to grow its market share.
With food safety, quality and sustainability all being top priorities in all aspects of Frandon’s operations, the company has created a dedicated four-person team, led by its quality assurance director, mandated to ensure that all of its certification protocols—including HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points), SQF (Safe Quality Food), Ecocert and the federal permit—are stringently followed to the letter and solidly implanted in the company’s work culture.
“More and more customers are looking for peace of mind when buying and eating seafood,” Bissonnette says.
“They want quality and sustainability in their plates,” he says, noting that the current labor shortages in the industry have created new challenges on the packaging side of Frandon’s business for ready-to-sell products.
“It (packaging) is becoming an important area of our business,” Bissonnette acknowledges. “Every day we are thinking of new ways to use the equipment so that we can meet all the requests we get.”
Two years ago, the company began accelerating its capital investment on the packaging side of the business with the purchase of a versatile P420 P-Series rollstock machine.
Manufactured by renowned Swiss packaging machine-builder VC999 Packaging Systems, the P-Series machines are designed to run flexible, rigid, semi-rigid, skin and shrink films to produce superior air-tight packaging to ensure optimal product protection and freshness.
“This machine does rigid, flexible and skin-pack on the same machine without a die or mechanical adjustment,” says Carl-Michel Cloutier, sales manager for eastern Canada at VC999 Canada Inc. in Saint-Germain-de-Grantham, Que.
“We developed it five years ago when we started selling that machine specifically for the fish market,” says Cloutier, adding that supplies Frandon with rigid, flexible and breathable films for fish packaging through the company’s VC999 Materials Division unit.
Bissonnette says the biggest challenge related to packaging fish is its constantly changing size and shape, but that has been addressed with their investment in VC999 technologies.
“Fish has no standards as far size and shape are concerned,” he says, “but the VC999 is permitting us to adapt to most of them using different dies.
“It also lets us package either fresh or frozen products.
“We are also packaging marinated products,” Bissonnette points out, “and the VC999 P-Series machine is built in a way where the liquid marinade is well accepted into the package, creating no problem for packaging our skewers.”
According to Bissonnette, one of the main reasons that Frandon opted for VC999 technologies is for the company’s reliable service and knowledgeable staff.
“When you put a new packaged product out on the market, you can’t go back,” he says, “so you need to make sure you are well supported by your equipment company.
“Speedy service and parts availability are very important in case you have a breakdown,” Bissonnette says, adding that Frandon also benefits from VC999 Canada’s solid industry knowledge when developing new packaging concepts.
“Since we are still relatively new in this market segment, we also solicit them for advice when we are developing new packaging ideas,” Bissonnette says.
“Their know-how and experience are a huge help for us at that stage of product development.”
As Bissonnette relates, when the company started looking into purchasing packaging equipment for new products it was developing, VC999 was recommended as a packaging equipment supplier by the general manager of another sister-company owned by Premium Brands.
“VC999 Canada came up with the best overall package, including versatility, upgrading, service, fastest delivery and price,” Bissonnette recalls.
“We did our due diligence before signing up with them,” he adds. “We called at least five different companies that were using their products, and they all highly recommended them to us.”
As Bissonnette points out, the new VC999 P420 P-Series rollstock machine is actually the second piece of VC999 equipment that Frandon has purchased to date.
About five years ago, the company acquired the model XtraVac 860 vacuum-packing machine to be able to improve its packaging for the grocery retail market.
Since arriving at the plant, the new VC999 P420 P-Series rollstock machine has been extremely helpful for packaging the fresh fish products that Frandon offers, according to Bissonnette.
Due to the fragile nature of the product, and with fresh fish requiring an oxygen transfer away from the product, all the adjustments in the vacuum process need to be very precise and steady.
“Once you have set your program, the equipment is very easy to use,” Bissonnette says. “It is a plug-and-play.
“Most ideas we have for new products are doable with the VC999 equipment we purchased,” Bissonnette relates.
“That is very important because we want to maximize our ROI [return-on-investment],” he says, “and also because of space-saving aspect, which is crucial in our environment.”
The robust P420 P-Series rollstock machine technology and the helpful VC999 Canada staff have provided an important competitive advantage for Frandon in terms of both productivity and innovation.
“Basically, none of our projects and new ideas would have been feasible without it and their team,” Bissonnette extols.
“Those new ideas are increasing our purchase power as our volume increase and as projects gets developed.”
The P420 P-Series rollstock machine is equipped with one servo-driven moving punching/cutting station, so that Frandon can make any type of packing format or size they may require in the future.
Cloutier adds that the high-performance machine is fully equipped with all the latest control technologies and multiple value-added features.
“This machine has a jumbo roll for the forming station, so that they can put on really big rolls, and not have to change forming rolls very often,” he explains.
“They also have a spacial loading grid to protect the loading area against contamination for marinated products,” he says, “and they have an on-site chiller so that so that they don’t have to use city water.
“It’s a real ‘green machine’ concept,” says Cloutier, adding that the machine’s throughput speeds of 12 to 14 cycles per minute offers Frandon plenty of room to grow its production volumes over time.
“They don’t run at that speed right now because they don’t have enough production yet,” Cloutier remarks.
The P420 rollstock machine at the Frandon plant is connected to with a Markem-Imaje thermal-transfer printer—equipped with top and bottom labellers—to take care of all lot number and dating on the film, printing all the required variable product information at high resolution.
Some of the P420 rollstock system’s other notable features and attributes include:
- A swing arm HMI (human-machine interface) control panel;
- The p-Software programming suite, designed to control the machine’s operations with high efficiency and ease of use;
- The IP 65-rated stainless-steel display enclosure;
- Intelligent integrated diagnostics;
- The Know Now! Machine/Production Metrics software for both live set-up and historic production data collection and reporting.
With sustainability is an integral aspect of Frandon’s operations, the company is always looking for more eco-friendly packaging options as they become available.
“We work very closely with packaging manufacturers,” Bissonnette confides.
“Our products are very shelf-life-sensitive and come in many different shape and forms: therefore their support is of the utmost importance.
“Being a federal plant, HACCP & SQF certified, we need our materials to be of superior quality as well,” Bissonnette says.
So what does the future hold for Frandon Seafoods?
Bissonnette says the company is dedicated to developing new shelf-ready products and ideas for its customers while ensuring optimal product integrity and quality.
“We are definitely in expansion mode, and we welcome any product ideas or needs from our existing and new customers,’ he says. “We want to be the Quebec solution for ready-to-use seafood products in the province.
“Fish has very limited shelf-life,” he says, “so our proximity to markets will help us immensely.”
To conquer those markets, the company will continue to invest in new product and packaging development, according to Bissonnette, as well as install more automated packaging machinery.
“Frandon is well supported by our corporate department for all our product-development initiatives,” Bissonnette concludes, “as it continues to be a growing segment for us.
“There is no doubt in our mind that further automation will be a key part of our future.”