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One on One: Fernando Salado

Category manager, seafood, Foodbuy/Compass Group

Fernando Salado, Category manager, seafood,
    Foodbuy/Compass Group Americas, Charlotte, N.C
By Fiona Robinson
December 01, 2006

"The sustainable-seafood program is a process, it doesn't happen overnight. It's not exactly easy to carry out because of the many voices in the industry today."

 

Fernando Salado has learned a lot about seafood since being named seafood category manager at Foodbuy almost a year ago. An MBA from Wake Forest helped Salado become a whiz with numbers, which is critical at Foodbuy, a $5 billion group-purchasing organization for multi-unit foodservice operators founded in 1999.

Salado seems to have made the transition from "numbers man" to "seafood and numbers man" fairly well. Born and raised in Argentina, Salado visited the United States for many years prior to making a permanent move in 2002. He received his MBA in 2004 and was immediately recruited by Foodbuy as a senior business analyst reporting to the director of food procurement. He was appointed seafood category manager in January and does everything from taking part in seafood cuttings to handling logistics issues.

Foodbuy's main customer is the Compass Group USA, the largest U.S. contract foodservice company with $7.5 billion in revenues and member companies including Bon Appétit Management Co. and Levy Restaurants.

The Compass Group - and Foodbuy's customers - extend across a wide spectrum of 
industries, including health care, daycare, retirement homes, investment banks, office campuses, sports arenas, museums and offshore oil platforms.

That's not just a lot of numbers, it's a lot of seafood that Salado keeps track of: Compass handles approximately 1 million pounds of seafood annually. The group announced earlier this year that its seafood purchases would adhere to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list. So Salado has received a crash-course in seafood and implementing a sustainable seafood program.

I spoke with Salado in September to see how his new job is going.

 

Robinson: What does a typical workday entail for you?

Salado: My typical day involves answering inquiries and [meeting the] needs of three major groups. I work with the culinary team on selecting products, going through flavor profiles and now sustainability criteria. I have my ear to the ground with all of the Compass Group chefs.

I work with suppliers on new product introductions and SKU rationalization, which is rationing down the number of products we carry. I work with the distribution end to maximize logistic solutions and deal with shortage issues.

Having three groups [to work with] makes my job enjoyable and challenging. I interact with different people with different needs and views. If I only dealt with one group it would be less challenging and motivating. They all are difficult or easy in their own ways.

 

How often do you get out 
of the office?

I travel once a month on average. I go to the International Boston Seafood Show. I have plant tours and facility visits to suppliers and supplier conferences and trainings. With chefs I participate in product evaluations or cuttings to test one product against another. Sometimes [cuttings] are blind. They're collaborative work with chefs, the culinary team, procurement and QA.

 

How are your seafood purchases divided between fresh and frozen products?

It's a 50/50 split. It varies according to region. [Customers] close to the coast are larger consumers of fresh seafood than those in the Midwest. On average, it's a 50-50 split.

We work with distributors to supply us with products from our preferred contracted suppliers and processors. Foodbuy stands in 
between the manufacturer and 
the distributor.

We're the middle link in the supply chain by distributing the preferred products. We work with a very small amount of national suppliers and work with a much larger number of small companies for direct seafood distribution.

 

How is implementation of the Compass Group's seafood-sustainability program going?

Besides the normal traceability and HACCP requirements, we now more [closely] adhere to a corporate sustainable-seafood policy. We're increasing the use of "best choices" as defined by the Seafood Watch list. We're shifting sourcing of Atlantic cod to Pacific cod. We're eliminating use of "avoid" species like Chilean sea bass or orange roughy. It's a process that takes several months to implement. We are not 100 percent in compliance with the Seafood Watch program. We work with it, through it and for it.

There are needs for costs and logistics that any seafood marketer 
has to face everyday. Sometimes it's not as simple as switching from Atlantic to Pacific cod. Some alternatives are not that clear and the costs are higher.

 

Has anyone objected to the Compass Group's decision?

No, we don't get major challenges to it. Our chefs are aware of the sustainable-seafood policy. We have an internal marketing campaign [about the program].

It's a matter of education when you realize the amount of fish out there. Some sustainable species may not be as common, such as the replacements for Chilean sea bass like butterfish and sablefish. Any resistance evaporates.

The sustainable-seafood program is a process, it doesn't happen overnight. It's not exactly easy to carry out because of the many voices in the industry today; there is no industrial-size reference to suppliers out there on sustainable certification. It's a process and we're following it closely. As long as we're on the route, we feel we're doing a good job.

 

Aside from the sustainable- seafood directive, have Foodbuy's buying procedures changed at all?

Yes, sourcing involves reaching further into the supply chain, down to the aquaculture farm and understanding its entire cost structure. It's a different way of doing business for seafood buyers. Instead of direct quotes we look at the cost structure of it.

Our customers have praised the initiative for being one of the first companies to [provide them] that compromise.

Do you ever have customers who demand suppliers that aren't in the Foodbuy network? If so, what happens in that instance?

We work with culinary teams on a case-by-case basis. Ninety-nine percent of the time it's a matter of education, conversation and making them aware of complete information on each product.

Whenever we get requests that aren't on the list, we work with them down to the basics of their true needs.

 

What is your greatest challenge working for Foodbuy?

Responding to the inquiries from all of the different stakeholders. Externally, it's educating the 
suppliers in a new way of doing business together. It's more of a strategic partnership based on facts and figures and not the "good old boys club" that categorizes the seafood industry.

It's a challenge every day. Many people are used to doing business that way. We don't compare quotes and stay with that, we go much further into it.

This whole type of business involves not disclosing many things that we ask for. But there are a lot of [suppliers] out there wiling to work with us because of the business opportunity that we present. We do have a lot of people who do come to us for that.

 

Do you have any work-related inspirations that motivate you?

Seafood has so many advantages compared to other [protein] categories. [Increasing] consumption is an everyday inspiration; it's an opportunity.

I think it makes business sense, not only health sense, for people and companies to promote and consume more seafood.

 

Editor Fiona Robinson can be e-mailed at frobinson@divcom.com
 

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