A Canadian specialty foods company has signed a deal to buy Ready Seafood, one of Maine’s largest lobster dealers and processors.

John and Brendan Ready first approached Premium Brands of Vancouver about six months ago while seeking help building a 40-acre lobster processing and research campus in Saco, John Ready said. What began as a search for an investment partner turned into a long-term strategic partnership with a company that shares Ready Seafood’s core values, he said.

Ready said he and his brother will remain as co-chief executive officers of the business they founded in 2004. Terms of the deal have yet to be disclosed.

“This deal will allow us to do what we do now, but on a much larger stage and with a much bigger tool box,” Ready said Tuesday. “With its market share and business relationships, (Premium Brands) can help us do things that would’ve taken us 30 years to do on our own. We believe this deal will create more value, not just for us, but for the Maine lobster industry.”

The acquisition will give Ready access to Premium Brands’ growing worldwide market of almost 2,200 buyers, Ready said. He believes that will enable Ready to grow beyond the parent company’s seafood group, which was formed in 2008, and venture into its bakery and specialty sandwich lines, which Ready said are new and relatively untapped markets for lobster.

The U.S. lobster industry can use all the new markets it can get to overcome the impact of the 25 percent Chinese tariff on U.S. lobster. Export data is not yet available, but Maine dealers say lobster shipments to Beijing – which once accounted for one-third of all U.S. lobster exported abroad – have all but vanished since the tariff was implemented in July.

Ready is still exploring whether merging with a company based in Canada can help it get around the Chinese and European tariffs that have put U.S. lobster dealers at such a price disadvantage, Ready said. Talks started six months ago, back when the U.S.-China trade war was just a rumor, but he acknowledged that working with a Canadian partner has distinct political advantages right now.

Brothers Brendan, left, and John Ready, seen in 2014, plan to remain with the business they founded in 2004.

“We are eager to explore any way we can maintain our relationship with our Chinese and European customers,” Ready said.

The acquisition also would mean Ready can cut the time it will take to build its new Saco facility from three years to one, he said. The project is still awaiting final municipal permits, but if approved, the seafood company would have three facilities in southern Maine, including a live lobster operation in Portland and a long-term lobster storage facility in Saco.

“We have no plans to retire,” Brendan Ready said with a laugh. “All we have on our minds right now is growth.”

Ready Seafood employs more than 200 people to buy, process and sell more than $100 million of lobster a year, with sales split evenly between domestic and foreign markets, Ready said. The company buys the majority of its lobster from Maine fishermen, but like many Maine dealers, it will buy Canadian-landed lobster in the winter to keep its supply steady, Ready said.

Premium Brands expects to complete the purchase within four weeks, pending regulatory approvals and the required waiting period. Once complete, it would boost Premium Brands’ growing seafood group to $303 million U.S. dollars in yearly sales, said George Paleologou, Premium Brands’ CEO and president.

Paleologou praised the Ready brothers as “industry pioneers” in a corporate statement released Tuesday.

“They are disruptors in what has been a relatively stable industry and have not only brought about significant innovation to the segment but have also played a lead role in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the industry,” Paleologou said of Ready Seafood, which was the first U.S. lobster dealer to add a marine biologist to its staff.

Founded in 1917 under the name of Fletcher Limited, Premium Brands has been on a buying spree in 2018. In its 2018 second quarter report to investors issued in August, Paleologou said the company had invested over $541 million, Canadian, in new businesses to date, calling Premium Brands the “partner of choice for a growing number of successful food entrepreneurs.”

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

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