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Interview with Ryan Nienaber, Co-founder of Greenfish


This month we chat to entrepreneurs and brothers Ryan and Andrew, founders of Greenfish, a supplier of sustainably caught, low environmental impact fish and seafood to the restaurant industry, and since Covid, also directly to consumers’ homes. Growing up as artisanal hand line and tuna pole fishermen, their combined 60 years of fishing experience has instilled in them a deep respect and connection to the ocean that underpins everything that Greenfish does.

Describe yourself in 3 words

High-energy, passionate, hardworking.

Tell us a bit about your love for fishing and the ocean

I’ve been fishing since the age of five and it’s an amazing privilege and passion that my brother and I have shared. We love all things fish! If we’re not fishing for work we’re fishing for fun, or dive, or spear fish or I’m taking my daughter fishing – that’s how much we love it.

How did you and your brother come upon the idea to start Greenfish?

The company was actually born out of chance. As a student I was catching and selling fish to make money to pay for my studies. Unfortunately I was bunking class a bit too often so my lecturers eventually asked whether I am going to stay in class or drop out and I said I will only bunk class and go fishing to make money. I eventually started selling tuna door-to-door to restaurants directly from the boats I was fishing on. I think I sold three to five tuna every 2 weeks while I was at varsity. I eventually graduated, but never went on practising. Greenfish was born from my mom’s drive-way with one freezer in the garage and we grew organically into the business we are today with a full team, factory and a fleet of vehicles and boats. It’s a proudly family-run business.

How has the past two years impacted your business?

Greatly. For the past decade we only supplied to restaurants and wholesale, so during the pandemic restaurants effectively stopped paying us. Our cash flow was hugely affected as businesses went under and we had to write off a lot of money. Luckily we pivoted early in the pandemic. Already after the first lockdown we changed over from B2B to B2C which resulted in us putting a lot more focus into online. That was how our beautiful online deli was born, which now allows every household to have a fisherman in their fridge.

What has been the most challenging so far about taking your business online?

I’m a fisherman, not an IT guy! Give me a piece of fishing line, bait and a hook and I’m comfortable. I’ve had to learn a lot about dealing with end users and home consumers and their needs and requirements vs the B2B side which I’ve done for a very long time and where the customer is very educated. So one of our biggest challenges has been to educate home consumers about fish, the values of how it is caught, and how not all fish are equal in terms of quality.

What digital channels do you mostly rely on to find new customers?

Right at the beginning when we went over to B2C I went onto Instagram and announced to Cape Town that we were launching our online fish store – we immediately got some orders. So Instagram started the process for us and after that we went on to Facebook and now Google – which is what AdMarula is helping us with 😉

On your website you promise delivery on the same day if orders are placed before 11am. That must be quite a challenge logistically?

Initially when we started the business we figured we would allocate each suburb a delivery day for example Stellenbosch on a Monday, Southern Suburbs on a Tuesday etc. but we quickly realised that was not what the consumer wanted. What they wanted was fresh fish that day and so we opened up same-day delivery every day to all of Cape Town and suburbs if orders were placed by 11am that day. Yes, it has been an interesting challenge logistically, but by re-purposing our fleet of vehicles that we used to use for restaurant deliveries, into different zones and by managing it in-house we have made it work. We only use a third party when absolutely necessary.

What aspirations do you have for the business?

To stay honest to the business and what we do, to the product and to continue our deep love and respect for the ocean. I never want to lose that – it is what makes us Greenfish. In time we may expand slightly, but we will do it very cautiously to make sure it still falls within our beliefs.

Your favourite seafood/fish recipe?

Keep it simple. Salt and pepper with a dollop of butter. Rather undercook it than overcook it – that applies to almost anything.

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