Five minutes with Mount Cook Alpine Salmon

Coming in at number at number 37 on the Fast 50 in 2013, Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon have changed a commodity-led industry by implementing a brand-led, ultra-premium product strategy.

This company has stormed the world stage and are already making waves in the highly competitive American market. It’s no surprise they achieved a growth rate of 201.06%.

We grabbed a quick five minutes with David Cole, the CEO of Mount Cook Salmon, to chat about how he managed to make life in the fishy lane so successful. Here’s what he had to say.

Who began this business and why?

It began 20 years ago when some enterprising people saw the opportunity for a secondary use of the hydro canals in the South Island. Conditions were perfect for salmon. A pristine environment and cold flowing water nestled right in the lap of the Southern Alps. Remote. Untouched. Just nature!

The question everyone wants to know – what makes a great cut of salmon?

Our marketing pitch is that we don’t grow the world’s best salmon - only nature can. So our role is to listen and respond to nature while providing the best conditions.

Our belief is the best salmon are fresh water salmon. They are leaner than sea farmed salmon which is evident in the flavour. Regularly selected by chefs in a blind taste test, our alpine salmon is smooth in texture and less oily with a silky response from the palate.

How do you balance taking risks in your business with pushing for growth?

Stand still and you accumulate risk! My challenge is to stretch the goals and provide coherent strategies for getting there. Then instill the culture and the encouragement for people to become the best they can be. I can then let go of the results. 

What’s your point of difference within the salmon business here in NZ?

We are the only producers in the world of fresh water Chinook salmon – and our fish have to constantly swim against a moving current in the canals. 

Any tips on attracting and retaining good staff?

Build a transparent culture around honesty and candour – not egos. The organisation must be about “we” not “me".

Are you happy with the rate at which your business has been growing?

Yes but I’m always a little impatient - there are just too many opportunities.

What key components do you believe need to be present to run a successful business?

Good people! As I keep reminding the board, this business is about ‘people’ not ‘fish’.

In the past year, what’s the smallest change you’ve have made that’s had the biggest positive result?

The change we made from a production-centric culture to a sales driven ethos.

What advice would you offer to those entering into an industry such as yours that has tough environmental laws governing it?

The strict environmental conditions are there for a reason. Exploit the tight monitoring regimes and present them as a marketing advantage to customers.

Where do you see yourselves in ten years’ time?

Globally acknowledged as the prestige salmon brand.

Finish this sentence:

A business can only take off if it has… aspirations that are honest, achievable and embraced by everyone in the organisation.


Learn more on Mt Cook Salmon on their YouTube channel here

Emily is a Senior Advisor in the Deloitte marketing team who knows that behind every great business lies a great story. She loves talking to inspiring people who are thinking outside the box to create a thriving SME sector in New Zealand.