Thai CEO is taking his tuna kingdom global

Thai CEO is taking his tuna kingdom global
PHOTO: Nikkei Asian Review

BANGKOK - Since becoming chief executive of Thailand's largest canned tuna company 20 years ago at the age of 30, Thiraphong Chansiri has made Thai Union Frozen Products the world's largest tuna processor. Along the way, TUF has swallowed up household names around the globe -- including Chicken of the Sea in the US, John West of the UK and, perhaps, Bumble Bee, another US pantry staple. The Bumble Bee deal is awaiting approval from antitrust authorities.

Having grown substantially in advanced markets and even evoking antitrust concerns in some, Thiraphong and his tuna kingdom are now into their second phase of growth. "We are still a young adult," the humble, 51-year-old president and CEO said. "We're only 37 years in business. We need to grow further to be a sustainable company that lasts 100 years."

A recent agreement to set up a joint venture with Saudi Arabia's Savola Group marked the company's full-fledged entrance into the Middle East market. Canned tuna is not yet familiar in the region, so there are no strong brands worth acquiring. Instead of taking the familiar route that has brought TUF into developed markets, Thiraphong opted for a different strategy in entering the Middle East, an underdeveloped region with huge potential.

TUF will use its John West brand to cultivate the market - and be patient. "The deal may take three to four years to make money," said Sureeporn Teewasuwet, an analyst at Finansia Syrus Securities.

She believes Thiraphong is on the right track. Savola, one of the region's largest food companies, is a "good partner" with wide distribution channels that TUF can leverage to access consumers in the region, she said.

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