The Mashuni Masdhalhu revelation

Horizon Fisheries' journey to mass popularity with their newest product, while planned, went well beyond their wildest expectations.

Source - Horizon Fisheries

Source - Horizon Fisheries

When the first ever revolutionary ‘Mashuni’ can hit the shelves, the nation was taken by storm. The company that had come up with the invention could not keep up with the demand, leading to hilarious anecdotes and stringent purchasing limitations. They didn’t realise the impact until it happened, so what really is the story behind the can?

Horizon Fisheries is not exactly the go to brand in Maldivian households, yet nearly all premium retailers all over Europe were selling their products. From Marks and Spenser, Sainsbury’s, German brand followfood, Swiss brand Migros, and even Australian premium grocery brand Serena were stocking up Maldivian fish products from Horizon Fisheries and have been doing so for years. 

Their unique selling point has been sustainability. Horizon Fisheries was the first company in the Maldives to implement a US fair-trade program of that scale, and there is a story to that as well. Since the Maldives is the one nation that utilises entirely pole-and-line fishing, Maldivian companies already have an edge over other competitive markets, and to get this standard, it was paramount to establish the International Pole and Line Fishing Foundation. This came just after the Maldives fisheries industry achieved the Marine Stewardship Council certification, further bolstering the hold on the market.

In the beginning, however, Horizon Fisheries was simply the result of making the most of an opportune moment. The Maandhoo Fisheries Complex was originally built by MIFCO in partnership with a Japanese company to set up a cold storage facility. This project was later joined by a Norwegian company to expand the facility, adding on another cold storage building. Horizon Fisheries came to existence when the government decided to sell off the Maandhoo complex, and the company that won out the bidding was Horizon.

Initially the complex was used for storage and then sales through containers to other countries. No further processing was done, and the raw material simply moved through the facility, so by 2011, they decided to expand the venture. An 80 ton fish processing plant was built, and thus began the processing and canning of fish, capable of pumping out two and a half shipping containers worth of finished product per day at max utility.

This expansion was worked on with a team from Thailand, who had installed the most cutting edge equipment at the time, including additional accommodation, utilities, powerhouses, and a desalination plant on the island to support the entire workforce of the processing complex. Given the MSC certification, a very strong niche was established and sustained for all fisheries export companies in the Maldives, and Horizon wanted to focus mainly on the export market. To increase the customer base, they decided to use extra flavours as well in their canned products, to make tuna a little more ‘exciting’.

A distinct advantage the Maldivian fishing industry once enjoyed was the lack of duty charges imposed on them due to the economic standard of the nation. By 2014, Maldives was promoted from a ‘developing nation’ to a GSP+ country, which meant this duty-free access was closed. Now products being exported into European countries specifically incurred a 24 percent duty charge which took a hit in the profits being generated as well.

The impact of this was mainly felt due to the fact that Horizon Fisheries’ main buyers were based in these European countries. These were people who were more aware of fair-trade and sustainable agriculture and fisheries practices, which meant they were the people who were willing to invest in consuming Maldivian pole-and-line fishing products at a premium as compared to products from other similar export nations. 

Now, however, with the added charge of duty, the market took enough of a hit to force them to look at other nations for market. Such nations include the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Africa and the like, yet these populations were not significantly bothered to opt for more sustainably sourced products. This meant they had to invest even more on making tuna an appealing product, and as such, they experimented with even more flavours and options.

This is mainly due to the nature of the fisheries industry; it is a volume-based business, not exactly a profiteering model. Given the size of the Maldivian industry it was difficult to compete with companies from the other coastal nations. Maldives was staying ahead with the certifications mentioned above and the unique selling point of being a pole-and-line nation, and in addition Horizon Fisheries are to enter a program by ILO for ethical recruitment. This meant every single migrant worker was treated fairly and kept safe from the debt traps that some profiteering recruitment agencies employ to profit from, interviewed to see if they had faced such a situation, and then reporting the discrepancies or violations.

And so, with the intent of breaking further into the niche market and expanding it, they aimed more inwards when searching for the right, new flavour. Something that was truly Maldivian and accepted by Maldivians to meet a cultural standard, something that no other nations would think of. Thus, was the idea for the ‘mashuni’ can born.

It took two years of research to get the formula just right. With nearly countless samples and iterations of the mashuni ingredients served to and judged by a large sample group in Maandhoo, the right combinations of tuna, huni; or coconut shavings, lime, and habanero were put together with no unnecessary chemicals. 

Shelf-life, of which estimations are given after an accelerated process in which a can is subject to exaggerated conditions and a given formula is employed to create the estimation, was set for a two year guarantee, which a lot of members of the public found unrealistic. Yet, they explain that it was their method of canning and sealing that ensured the food would not go bad for at least two years, thus making it a viable canned good. 

When the cans were arranged on shelves across the city, the unexpected happened.

Their stocks ran out in hours, to the point where they needed to enforce a limitation on number of cans sold per person. People put together elaborate plans and also employed the use of passersby to get more and more such cans, which gave such a positive feedback that their market plans were immediately adjusted. Now they have resolved the stock issue and sells without restriction, a point a number of citizens were glad to hear.

They do not seem to show any signs of slowing down in this race for uniqueness and premium sales positions, and have further plans in the works already. These ‘exciting’ products are being tested and kept under wraps for the time being, but with the success of the mashuni masdhalhu, they can be expected to unveil another product within a short time. What sets the mashuni can apart is how an export version is different from the ones sold locally; the export can is less spicy.

The determination to tap into a concept so Maldivian and unique should be a lesson in new and aspiring business projects, as the Maldivian uniqueness can be an important tool in markets that cannot be competed for in volume.

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