Young trio revive the Arade River’s fish canning industry

After decades left abandoned and forgotten, the Arade River’s fish canning industry is being revived by three passionate young men under the name Saboreal.

Belgian economist Vincent Jonckheere, 34, former pharmacist Manuel Mendes, 30, and fishing boat owner André Teixeira, 28, come from different backgrounds, but it was their passion for the Algarve’s fish canning industry history that brought them together.

Using the wisdom passed on from people who have worked in the industry, the men decided that there was a lot of potential for the canning business to reappear along the Arade river.

They bit the bullet, and are now enjoying huge success selling a number of canned gourmet goods, including sardines, mackerel and horse mackerel (carapaus).
The fish is all brought in from local fishermen that André works with, and the three partners work together with just one employee, who helps them can the fish and distribute the products.

However, they refuse to be called “pioneers” and say that they are only “trying to produce quality products inspired by the Algarve’s fish canning industry, which in its prime saw dozens of factories set up along the Arade river”.

The Resident visited the company’s factory in the industrial area of Pateiro near Parchal, Lagoa, and was told why these three young men decided to focus on an industry that was once a hallmark of the Arade River, but has virtually disappeared.

“I’ve always loved Portugal and have been visiting for years. In October, I visited Portimão’s museum and was inspired by the region’s canning industry history. Two months later, I returned to the Algarve dead set on opening a fish canning factory,” Vincent Jonckheere told us.

“It seemed impossible to me that a place like this did not have one fish canning factory,” he added.

This is when the “poetic” story of how he met Manuel and André began.

“In December, I heard about a Belgian man who was thinking of opening a fish canning factory in the Algarve. I took an interest in the idea, and arranged to meet him,” André Teixeira, who runs a family-owned fishing company, explained.

“Manuel and I are both from Ferragudo and have been friends since we were kids. I told him to meet me for a drink at the bar where I was going to meet Vincent. Once I got there, we realised that Manuel and Vincent had already met each other at the beach, coincidentally, and discussed the very same idea of opening a factory! Naturally, the three of us quickly decided to move forward with the idea,” he said.

By April, the trio had already secured a bank loan from State-owned bank Caixa Geral de Depósitos and found a warehouse in Parchal which they could turn into a factory.
It took a lot of “hard labour” from the three of them to renovate the building and make it abide by sanitation rules, but the work paid off and Saboreal now has enough demand to produce canned fish three times a week.

Manuel, who at the time had just left his career as a pharmacist behind, said that the project seemed “much easier” to accomplish when they first spoke about it.

“It’s been a lot of work, there were some bumps along the way, but things are now going well and the number of shops selling our products is growing every day. Even the amount of likes on our Facebook page is growing like a virus,” he joked.

In fact, people are even recognising them on the street.

“We’ve appeared on TV channels like RTP and lots of people have come up to me on the street, telling me to keep up the good work. It is very rewarding,” André told us.

Even though they’ve received great media attention, they’re still very aware that they’re a small company.

That’s one of the reasons they chose glass jars over the traditional tin cans – to keep their “artisanal production separated from huge fish canning companies”.

“It’s really our teamwork that I think sets us apart. Even though we met recently, we complement each other and love working together,” Vincent says.

Saboreal’s products can be found at a growing number of stores around the Arade area, or clients can order directly from the company’s Facebook page or email address.

Small jars cost €4, while the larger ones cost €5,50.

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By Michael Bruxo
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