Success breeds success – that's how the journey of Bengal Meat, which has already created a brand identity by supplying safe processed meat to the market, touches another height of success as an industrial fish processor, supplying consumers with ready to cook fish under its brand "Bengal Fish".
American-expatriate Mazharul Islam along with his two friends launched Bengal Meat in 2006 with the aim of exporting halal, healthy and quality "safe meat". Initially, the company was not making profits and so it roped in investors such as Sheltech Group and a number of experienced businessmen in 2011. It gradually started making profits by focusing on the local market. Eventually, it started selling chicken, goat and some frozen foods.
As Bengal Meat's entrepreneurs initially had no plan to market processed fish, its processing facility in Pabna had no fish processing unit. Later, the company set up a fish processing unit there, but it hit obstacles in some other aspects, namely securing sources of safe fish. The company took around 15 years to develop sustainable sources of safe fish.
The safe protein supplier went into collaboration with WorldFish – an international research organisation – In 2021. It gradually started marketing fish produced by contract farmers under the supervision of the research institute, and created the "Bengal Fish" brand.
Currently, the company is selling around five tonnes of fish per month through its own outlets and partner vendors. Among its products are freshwater fish, such as Gulsha, Bata, Rui, Katla, Shing, and Pabda. It also sells Black Tiger Prawn, Rupchanda and some other marine fishes.
With city residents having little time to cut and process fish, Bengal Fish is supplying fishes that are ready to cook. There are some individuals or groups based on Facebook who are selling processed fish, but Bengal Meat is the only industrial grade processed fish seller in the country.
Bengal Meat does not procure freshwater fish from any source other than its contract farmers. All the safety measures in fish production are followed by its farmers – who receive training regularly – under the supervision of WorldFish. Most of these farms are located in the country's northern regions, like Rajshahi, Bogura and Natore.
Rajib Kumar Sarkar, one of Bengal Meat's contract farmers in Natore, told TBS, "Three things are important for producing safe and quality fish: standard ponds, quality fish fry, good fish feed. Besides, we are encouraged to produce safe fish because we always get a good price for it."
After procuring fish from the contract farmers, its quality is checked at Bengal Meat's well-equipped laboratory in Pabna, which has recently received ISO certification for maintaining international standards.
Bengal Meat markets the fish after processing, vacuum packaging and blast freezing by automated machines. It is then sent by freezer vans to 25 outlets, including Unimart, Dhali Super Shop and Agora outlets.
Sources at the company said Rui is their most popular fish product.
Officials of Bengal Meat said their processed fish costs 35%-40% higher than live fishes found in the local market, mainly because there is an additional cost of sourcing, processing, and supply chain management.
Besides, customers have to throw away 150-200 grams of a fish bought from local markets, but they can consume all of the processed Bengal Fish products, said Shaikh Imran Aziz, marketing head of Bengal Meat.
About future plans, he said, "We are trying to increase the variety of fishes. But there is no scope of increasing the variety without securing safe production facilities. Nevertheless, we are getting a good response from customers for the products we are currently supplying to the market."
Currently, Bengal Meat supplies 80% of its total processed beef to the local market, and exports 20% abroad. The company is thinking of exporting fish too, but it does not want to focus on that right now.
"We have a lot more work to do to meet just the local demand," said Shaikh Imran Aziz.
The company suffered losses for several years following its inception due to the lack of experience of the new entrepreneurs, not having enough collateral to get loan facilities, and the price of meat in the local market being higher than the export price.
Repeated issuance of shares against debt to survive could not stabilise the company. Later, Envoy Group invested in Bengal Meat in 2011. At the time, the company decided to prioritise the local market as well as the export market. Consequently, the company started posting profits almost a decade after its launching.
The company currently employs around 700 people.