A pristine paradise comprising of more than 900 tropical islands curving gently into the Pacific Ocean, the Solomon Islands is blessed with sparkling waters, remarkable biodiversity, and a generous fishing region.
It was here in the early 1970s that one of the country’s key industries saw the establishment of premium tuna business SolTuna. SolTuna is 51 per cent owned by Trimarine (owned by Bolton group Int. since 2019).
SolTuna stands out in the market for its quality of product, world-class certifications, and gender equal approach to their workforce.
Short Time from Sea to Shelf
Unlike most tuna companies, SolTuna fish is caught in Solomon Island waters and processed locally. Marketing Executive Mark Gribble says the proof is in the consumption.
“I think we are the only cannery in the world where resource owners catch and process the fish, as well as consume the end product. That is a ringing endorsement for any food producer.
“The other difference is the freshness of our tuna. It’s caught locally, frozen quickly, and processed within weeks of capture. Many processors hold their tuna in cold storage for months to years before processing.
“Compare this to SolTuna, where the team catches the fish in the water. It then goes to the cannery, and normally ends up on the shelf in about six to eight weeks.
“It’s a notable difference. We’re able to do this because our vessels are relatively small, so they manage tuna in a manner to best preserve freshness.
Certifing Quality and Supporting the Local Economy
SolTuna is proud to hold certifications from the most reputable global entities. In addition to MSC and Fairtrade it also holds certification from the British Retail Consortium, Earth Island Institute Dolphin Safe, and is Orthodox Union Kosher and AFIC Halal compliant, with approval to import canned products into the EU and US markets.
These certifications are important as SolTuna accounts for 11 per cent of Solomon Islands’ national exports. It processes 25,000 metric tonnes of tuna per year – which equates to 900,000 tins of canned tuna. In addition to its domestic market SolTuna exports internationally into markets. These are including Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, and other Pacific Island countries.
SolTuna ensures there are jobs for the local community. Today they employ 2,190 Solomon Island Nationals and nine expatriates. Of these, just over 60% are female. They listed among Solomon Island’s top 15 businesses pioneering to employ women in 2018.
Impact from COVID-19
Jim Alexander, SolTuna’s General Manager in the Solomon Islands, says the global pandemic has been challenging.
“The travel restrictions here, as with the rest of the world, have been strict. For our nine expats the restrictions make it very difficult, if not impossible for them to visit their families back home.
“In addition, we’ve only recently had access to vaccines. Our priority is distributing vaccines to our workers and non-employees throughout our local community. The SolTuna facility in Noro is an active vaccination centre, working in coordination with SI health authorities.
“Although we’re fortunate not to have had an outbreak of COVID-19, we have still taken extra precautions to limit spread in case of such an event, given the proximity of the type of work we do. We do online meetings instead of face to face. They do take longer, but the travel time is obviously cut back so it does even out. Our main concern has been the health of our workers.”
Sales and Supply Chains
While total sales have remained consistently steady for SolTuna, economies in their domestic and export markets have been struggling. This will have an eventual impact.
SolTuna remains primarily focused on the Pacific market for sales of canned products. Its frozen, cleaned and precooked tuna loins go to countries in the European Union for canning by top European brands. They sell their by-products throughout Asia and the Pacific.
Jim says the interruption to global supply chains and shipping costs are driving up the cost of production.
“While we are absorbing this now, we hope this increase in cost will decrease once the global supply chain has recovered from the fallout of the pandemic. However, no one can be sure how long this will last.
“For SolTuna it’s about continuing to deliver great quality canned tuna, keeping our employees safe, and providing income for our community and country.”