Umlax AB – about exporting fish to Norway and further away countries

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A few miles northwest of the town of Vilhelmina in southern Lapland, one findsyou find Lake Malgomaj. There, Umlax AB cultivates fish, primarily Arctic char, which is their main product. When the fish are large enough, they are taken to Vilhelmina, where they are cleaned and filleted.

Verksamt.se’s reporter Anders Nyberg met with their CEO Anna-Carin Jonsson in Vilhelmina to hear more about the company’s export journey, directed primarily at Norway, France, Belgium, Finland and the United States. The temperature has just fallen below zero degrees, and a few hundred metres into the lake, thousands of fish are jumping in fish farming cages.

When I went to school, I learnt that one getsyou get smart by eating a lot of fish. Do you eat a lot of fish Anna-Carin?
Yes, but not as much as oneyou might think. However, we try to eat fish one day a week, at least. In a good week, it will be twice.

But hey, exporting fish to Norway – that sounds a bit incredible.

LOL! Yes, there are quite a few who say that. But in fact, the Norwegians really like our fish.

How is it, exporting to Norway?
Since Norway is not an EU country, it is a bit more complicated, naturally. For example, we have to keep track of customs duties. That means that it’s important to keep track of all the paper when we ship over the fish.

How did it happen, that you came into the Norwegian market?
Actually, we were quite unprepared for it. We were picked up by a company that wanted to purchase our fish. Everything went very fast, which meant we did not check all the paperwork – so in fact, we ran into a wall almost at once.

So you hit a roadblock? Could you tell us a bit about what happened
Sure. We thought “well, it’s Norway, our neighbour, just a few tens of kilometres from here.” So, it’s just a matter of driving over with the goods, we thought. But the Customs didn’t see it that way. Nevertheless, everything got resolved. We got a lot of assistance from both the Customs and our customer in Norway, so we were able to quickly resolve it. You One needs a registration number, which can be obtained by applying for it at Swedish Customs. And once we got that, it was full speed ahead. YouOne also needs to make an export declaration, but presently one doesyou do it on the VAT declaration form, so it has become much easier.

If we look into the past for a moment, what did you do when you decided to invest in a new country for the first time?
I think that as a company youone should get help when youone begins your their  export journey. We received help from Business Sweden to conduct a market selection analysis, in order to find out which countries we should focus on. Therefore, we could avoid certain obstacles right from the outset.  OYoune needs to do your do their homework about the country.

Could you explain, what is a “market selection analysis”?
There is an X and Y axis, where one axis indicates market potential, and the other indicates availability.  Based on this, we learned that China, for instance, has very high potential for us, as there are many people there who are eating our particular kind of fish. But China has very low accessibility. The country is outside the EU, there are long distances, and different rules apply. While at the same time, Sweden, Norway and Finland have very high accessibility, however a little lower potential. The same goes for France.

So, accessibility is more important?
Yes, one noticesyou notice how important accessibility is at the beginning, especially when one works with fresh food items, as we do.

This feels like a model that anyone could make use of?
Yes, absolutely, it’s really great. Using this, it will become quite clear which country or countries oneyou would bestshould start with.

Have you also visited the countries you sell to?
Yes, I think that is really essential that you doone does that before starting selling. If it concerns food, as it is in our case, then go to the country, walk around in stores and check out what products are presently being sold. Get to learn the products, so that you have something to compare with. Eat at restaurants selling similar foods. This provides a great basis for discussion and helps youone get a good feel for the market in that country.

If Umlax would enter into an entirely new market today, what would you do?
In addition to visiting the country and the market, there is a whole lot of very good information available today. verksamt.se is a really great website, where a massive amount of information concerning exporting has been gathered together. Then, I would “dare to ask.” Ask other companies and organisations in the region who sell to the countries I’m interested in - call someone or send an e-mail. You will be amazed how much support and helpful advice you can get from them.

What are your thoughts about the business cultures in other countries?
It’s actually more important than one might think. Looking at Russia, where we are about to head into, it’s a big difference, for example, how to bid and represent. As a company, you haveone has to keep in mind that they are on their home ground. It iIs therefore good to play in their games.  For example, in Finland, they may sometimes get a little nervous if they start talking about agreements, because they mean we have shaken hands and should trust each other.

Anna-Carin, it was really great to come here and see everything. Thanks!
And thank you Anders for coming, you are always welcome back!

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