New Hampshire company buying seafood pie business in Machias

By Tim Cox, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 06, 2013, at 1:17 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — A New Hampshire company will acquire Cobscook Bay Co., which makes all-natural seafood pies, officials for both businesses disclosed Thursday.

Craig’s All Natural, based in Durham, N.H., will buy a majority interest in the Trescott seafood business, which is affiliated with the Cobscook Community Learning Center. Craig’s specializes in all-natural gourmet seafood products using New England recipes and already offers various Maine seafood products. Terms of the pending deal were not disclosed.

Craig Rief, president of the New Hampshire company, and Alan Furth, executive director of the learning center, appeared before the Washington County Commission on Thursday as Furth sought to modify terms of county financing which the company obtained earlier through the Tax Increment Financing program. The TIF program, administered by the Sunrise County Economic Council, provides grants and loans to help start or expand businesses in the unorganized territory.

The commission voted 3-0 to approve the request, but its approval includes language that would require the financing to be revisited if the Cobscook Bay Co. processing plant is moved outside the designated territory.

Furth indicated the company’s production plant, which employed about 10 workers in early 2011, would remain at its current location.

“We have no intention of moving that plant at this point,” he told the commission.

The plant began operation in the fall of 2010. The frozen pies — shrimp, lobster, scallop and crab — are sold under the Maine Fresh label and have been available in grocery stores across North America. Jeff Johnson and John Phinney are minority shareholders of the Cobscook Bay Co. along with 20 private equity investors including the Cobscook Bay Learning Center, which receives a 25 percent share of the profits.

Craig’s All Natural is dedicated to continuing production in the region, said Furth, and the New Hampshire company also is committed to continuing to pay royalties to the learning center.

The acquisition will benefit the business, said Furth, who told the commission the company was “out of gas” and was seeking investors.

“To me, it just adds horsepower that we didn’t have,” he told the panel.

Rief indicated his company, which has been in business since 2006, will be able to effectively expand the market reach and sell the line of frozen seafood pies.

“This is what we do,” he told the commission. “We know how to do it. … [The pie line is] very complimentary to what we’re doing.”

“This is a win,” said Commissioner Chris Gardner about Cobscook Bay Co. succeeding in attracting private investment. “This is exactly the way this system should work.”

He called the pending acquisition “a very natural hand-off.”

Craig’s All Natural provides gourmet seafood products using all natural, chemical free ingredients, according to the company’s website. Ingredients come from local farms and fisheries. The company also says it is committed to sustainable natural resources, marine stewardship, and “the best environmental practices for keeping our oceans healthy.”

The company’s product line, available in Whole Foods Markets nationwide and other retailers, includes several Maine lobster products, such as bisque and chowder and lobster tails, as well as New England clam chowder, Florida spiny lobster tails and other foods.

Craig’s All Natural has facilities in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Brunswick, Canada.

“This is, in every way, a success story,” Furth said in a news release issued by the learning center on Friday. “Our goal from the beginning was to build a business that would grow the local economy, create jobs that pay a living wage to local residents, to create a market for local fisheries, and to support the learning center. This development achieves all of those goals in ways beyond what we could do without this acquisition. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

“The Maine Fresh seafood pies are a perfect complement to our expansive line of seafood products and will benefit immensely from our national sales and distribution infrastructure,” said Rief in the learning center’s news release. “Craig’s All Natural is committed to keeping and growing this business right here in Washington County [and to supporting the learning center],” he said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/09/06/business/n-h-company-buying-seafood-pie-business-in-machias/ printed on September 17, 2014