In George Souza’s business, nothing is more critical than keeping product cold throughout the supply chain, although sustainability is becoming an increasing priority as well.
As president of Endeavor Seafood Inc., Souza is an expert in temperature-controlled logistics, applying 35 years of experience in restaurant purchasing and product provision, as well as aquaculture and business degrees, plus a lifelong love of fishing, at the Newport, Rhode Island-based company he founded in 2001. Bringing frozen seafood into the U.S. market from Asia and other source locations throughout the world, Souza sees cold chain maintenance as essential to product quality and safety alike, not simply regulatory compliance, as he shares in an interview with the American Journal of Transportation.
How is temperature-controlled logistics so essential to what you do at Endeavor Seafood Inc.?
There certainly are a lot of requirements on the parts of customers, shippers and insurance companies to maintain temperature.
The other key factor, of course, probably more important to us, is the food safety aspect and the intrinsic product quality. Having temperature fluctuations certainly doesn’t help product quality at all, so that’s in essence why it’s so essential.
Specifically what products do you ship from where to where?
We are 100 percent frozen seafood. It comes from literally all over the world. We bring a lot from Southeast Asia, China, South America and also from Europe. The three U.S. ports it mainly comes into are Boston, Los Angeles and Savannah. It’s all customer-driven, related to their distribution networks.
Being that you are a former director of the National Fisheries Institute and thus no doubt keep up with legislative and regulatory issues, what measures relevant to your business are on the horizon and what do you see as impacts?
There’s a lot of talk about FSMA [the U.S. Food and Drug Association’s Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in 2011, with compliance dates beginning in September 2016].
Really, you’ve got these regulations, but most of the serious companies abide by these requirements anyway just due to maintaining food safety and the intrinsic quality of the product. It comes back to that time and again – maintaining temperature.
It’s a form of preservation, and I don’t know that anything is going to change in that regard as far as maintaining temperature.
Probably the biggest changes more have to do with traceability and demonstration as to where the product came from, how it was transported, how it was held and then eventually how it was distributed, to maintain temperature throughout the supply chain. So the biggest change would be to make sure you have the paperwork to back up what you say.
So how difficult is it to maintain the temperature?
It involves good specifications of the temperatures at which you require the product to be held at on the BLs [bills of lading] and then, of course, checking of the temperatures.
The key is to have good partners at the receiving points, no question about that, and good truckers as well.
As far as the ocean carriers, there’s not a lot of difference. They’re all good. The biggest challenge is mechanical breakdown. When you have a problem with a container, that’s where you need to know it.
One thing is that the technology has just become so good. For instance, we had a load that was coming by rail and we got a call that indicated that there was a problem with the equipment, the container, and we met the container and inspected the product on arrival. It turned out everything was fine, but just having that opportunity in advance to meet the container was tremendous.
As the technology improves, I think we’re able to improve all along the cold chain.
How vital have sustainability and stewardship become in the seafood business?
They’ve become everything for a number of reasons – everything from commercial reasons, whether on the wild-catching side, where certain stocks have been overfished, to the farmed seafood side, where we’ve had disease issues and things like that.
Sustainability is everything in commercial terms and in environmental terms. NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] have provided a service to the industry in saying who’s looking after these things to make sure there’s something left for years to come.
These have always been concerns, but the focus has really sharpened in the last 20 years, where you’ve seen this really gain momentum. It’s vital. It’s the right thing to do.
It’s become such a big deal. It’s an interesting area for sure. Commercially, it’s the right thing to do. And, socially, it’s the right thing to do.
It’s amazing to me that it wasn’t something more publicized earlier. When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, it was more of a fringe thing. I was always concerned with it, but I figured that was just because of what I do and education-wise you’re exposed to it, but you didn’t see a lot of it in the news.
Now it’s mainstream and everybody is concerned, and it’s the right thing.
The fact is that sustainability is part of social responsibility in general. In traveling to all these different areas of the world, we find the people who treat the resources and the environment right also tend to treat other people right. It is simply part of long-term sustainable business practices and a sustainable competitive advantage.
How do you deploy your prior experiences on the restaurant purchasing side, including for Burger King and Long John Silver’s, and at product providers such as Gorton’s of Gloucester and Frionor, as well as your bachelor’s in aquaculture engineering from the University of Massachusetts and MBA from Providence College, in your current role?
It’s just an accumulation of experience that you have everything from how the fish is grown or how it grows, how it’s harvested, how it’s processed, and then, of course, how it all fits together to give a long-term sustainable advantage.
Certainly, the MBA gives you the view of the commercial side of the business. The engineering and aquaculture kind of provides some basis for the technical side of the business. So it’s a good combination in the business.
When you get out with a technical degree, you’ve got these technical jobs, but you realize there’s a commercial end of the business as well, so I went back and got the MBA, so I could understand the commercial side as well.
The two are so intertwined that you really have to understand both ends of the business.
Am I correct that you once lost an unusual wager with equally unusual consequences?
I’ve lost a lot of unusual wagers. But there was the time I was so certain a particular value-added product from Argentina – I’d rather not say exactly what – was not going to work, that I volunteered to get a mohawk if the product ever went to market. It went to market, and I got the haircut.
I didn’t think the product was going to be viable, but I was proven wrong. It didn’t make sense to me technically or commercially, so I guess it’s further evidence that one’s education is never complete.
I’ve been less bold in my wagers ever since.
What with the nature of your work, you wouldn’t happen to enjoy fishing, would you?
Oh, absolutely I do. You bet. I’ve got to get my revenge on these things.
That’s really how I got into the business. As a kid in Southeastern Massachusetts, I enjoyed fishing so much so that I said, “Hey, that’s what I want to do. I want to work with fish in some way, shape or form.”
There were a lot of fishermen in New Bedford, a lot of fishing opportunities on Cape Cod, and I got my first job on the docks in New Bedford.
That’s when one of the things I learned early on was to keep the product cold.
Then I got more into frozen products, and, there again, it’s keep it cold, keep it below zero. I go back to the days where they kept the cold storages at minus 18 Fahrenheit.
Today the targets are maybe zero to minus 5, aside from super-freezers, and I think it’s a matter of using less electricity. If I had my druthers, cost aside, I would be in favor of the lower the temperature, the better.
As far as fishing – saltwater, freshwater, summer, winter, ice fishing – I like it all. Just don’t get enough time to do it.