As part of the series of interviews on “Family Businesses in Times of Crisis”, we are pleased to share the conversation of Rania Labaki, Associate Professor and Director of the EDHEC Family Business Centre, with Ruy Andrade Pereira, member of the third generation, in charge of External Relations and Business Development of Grupo Pereira in Spain. Established in 1955, Grupo Pereira is a vertically-integrated seafood group, with fishing boats operating in the Atlantic Ocean and factories and offices in 6 countries employing over 1.000 professionals.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a ripple effect on the world economies and societies. How have the family and the business been particularly impacted?

Our 20 fishing boats are operating from North to South into the Atlantic Ocean, from Canada to Falkland Islands. We have offices and factories in Spain and several countries in Africa such as Mauritania, Senegal, Namibia and South Africa.

Our main concern at the beginning of Covid-19 crisis was to secure PPE´s for our crew and staff worldwide. We realized that timing and legislation in each country was different and that caused us many troubles.

Secondly, we had to deal with borders closing in Europe and Africa with our seamen in transit.

Thirdly, it was crucial to avoid contagion among our crews working in factories.

Fortunately, we have been considered a special-interest industry and the authorities granted us special permission to work and travel in very limited conditions. Thankfully, we did not have any personal loss.

With regards to the family, our main concern was to protect the health of our 95-year-old founder, patriarch and my grand-father. He comes to the office every day and it was difficult to make him understand that he should not come until the pandemic would decline.

We did increase our informal communications and try to keep our founder up to date.

How did these changes translate into initiatives (or strategies)?

With regards to communication, we enhanced both internal and external communications.

Internally, we created departmental chats using digital platforms. We also asked the seamen and the crew on the ground to participate in a series of videos supporting the Spanish, Senegalese and Namibian society, reassuring them that the food supply was not at risk (during the first two weeks of the lockdown there were shortage of certain items in supermarkets) and cheering them up with positive messages sent by our Captains on board of the fishing boats.

As our seamen spend almost 6 months isolated on the fishing boat, they could teach us many life lessons about how to handle the lockdown with peace of mind. And they did it, by writing letters with tips and by sending support video-messages recorded at sea with their mobile phones.

We shared these videos on our social media and the public reacted cheerfully and gratefully. This also helped to increase their sense of belonging to the company.

Finally, we have strengthen our digital resources with a new software, online sales in the main platforms and online recipes to try and help amateur chefs to cook seafood in an easy and tasty way.

Family businesses are known for their values of social responsibility, acting as ambassadors of the territories in which they are rooted. How did these manifest themselves in your country?

We have strong roots in Galicia, Northern Spain. We are committed to the social and economic development of the area and we hold long-term relationship with many stakeholders.
It is important to mention that we also contribute locally with NGOs in the countries we operate, (Senegal, Namibia, etc.), in areas such as education, medical and nutrition.
With regards to the current crisis, we are intensively collaborating with local Food Banks in Spain and Africa.

How are your preparing for the post-crisis phase, in line with medium or long-term challenges the family business will be facing?

Our sales have been hit, especially the foodservice channel. Unfortunately, we can anticipate the closure of many restaurants in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, etc. Only the strongest and most professional ones will survive this crisis.

We have acknowledged that consumers have changed their behavior during the pandemic: they are back to home cooking (and enjoying it) and they buy more food online. These new habits, although not as much as during the lockdown, will definitely stay relevant in the future.

The economic crisis that will follow, will also impact food prices.

Therefore, we need to work on providing solutions to the ‘new’ consumers: healthy, affordable, and tasty seafood available on and offline.

With regards to the family business, we realized that a fast, efficient and safe communication channel for decision-making is needed.

In the past few weeks we had a good opportunity to stop and listen to ourselves. With a positive attitude, is it possible to see this crisis as an opportunity to improve our personal lives and businesses? If yes, how?

We have learned that we were living at a super-fast pace and we were missing the “little things”. We have realized that remote working is a reality and many business trips are not that necessary.

During these special and difficult times, we have realized the braveness and courage of most of our staff members. A motivated staff and teamwork make a great difference in organizations.

We live in a changing environment which has accelerated over this new century. We need to stand up and adapt to it. There is a saying about this: “The big fish is not the one who succeeds, it is the fastest one”.

Having a positive attitude and confidence in the future is essential, but also working and dealing with others with transparency and openness. With social media and news spreading faster than ever, companies should not risk their legacy trying to hide anything.
It is also important to grow and have a relevant critical mass however, the growth rate must be reasonable.

As our founder says: “We advance as the ox, slowly but steadily”.