February 28, 2020
Graduating with an M.B.A. in 2009 at the height of the Recession, Martin O'Brien left the U.S. to return home to P.E.I., never dreaming he'd make his mark in the seafood sector. Working alongside his parents on their oyster farm, he bought his own gear and ultimately created Cascumpec Bay Oyster Company, farming and processing oysters from Cascumpec Bay and Foxley River.
Able to develop an early business model through the purchase of an established Ellerslie company with a processing plant, O'Brien recently took the significant step of opening a much larger enterprise in Trout River and joining the Food Propel program. “The timing is perfect," says O'Brien. "The new facility's equipped with innovative filtration technology, storage tanks, office space, and enough property to expand. The industry's evolving technologically, and we’re making strong moves in that direction with new equipment and software."
O’Brien credits Food Island Partnership's Food Propel program as instrumental to his rapidly evolving business, with its dedicated mentor team, industry workshops, market travel, and cost-shared growth fund assisting with strategic investments. “It’s given me the opportunity to grow, particularly with sales and marketing. I didn’t realize how important mentorship can be. I'm receiving so much constructive feedback and support.”
The program's recent trip to the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco has been an eye opener. “It's a reminder of how big the U.S. market really is. I've made good connections with wholesalers and distributors, with two contacts exploring opportunities in Canada and internationally." His oysters are currently available In Vancouver, Southern Ontario, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and P.E.I.
O'Brien is undaunted by the challenge of international expansion to the U.S., Asia, and Europe in the next five years, confident in his special niche. “We’ve provided a consistent quality product over time,” he says. “The customer trusts what they’re getting knowing I have a tight hand on quality control. Our unique location on one of P.E.I.'s few undeveloped rivers-- just far enough inland that the oysters are not too salty, and very near a large peat moss bog -- gives our oysters their distinctive taste.”
By Magner Ink (www.magnerink.com). This is one in a series of articles on the P.E.I. Food Cluster.