January 9, 2019

Shipping and distribution startup with Icelandic ties sets course for Portland

Courtesy / North Atlantic Cargo Line
Courtesy / North Atlantic Cargo Line
North Atlantic Cargo Line ships to and from every major port in North America, including Portland. It ships to Europe and Asia.
Courtesy / North Atlantic Cargo Line
Olafur Matthiasson runs North Atlantic Cargo Line from Virginia Beach, Va., but plans to run the company from Portland along with a new warehouse distribution and fulfillment subsidiary called Isafold. The move is planned for February.

Six years after Eimskip moved its U.S. headquarters to Portland, another company doing business between Iceland and North America aims to make its mark in Maine's largest city.

The future newcomer is Isafold, a newly established subsidiary of North Atlantic Cargo Line, a family-owned international shipping and forwarding company run by founder Olafur Matthiasson out of Virginia Beach, Va., assisted by his wife and one other employee.

They already do a brisk business in Portland, which accounts for 80% of its North American exports. The company also shares a warehouse in Wells with Eimskip, the fast-growing Icelandic-owned shipping firm that bought international container shipping back to Portland in 2013.

"We're mainly supporting young startup Icelandic companies which are seeking to get into the Maine market," Matthiasson told Mainebiz in a phone interview, adding that the business started as a hobby rather than a way to make money. "After doing this for a year and a half, we decided to move up to Portland."

The move is planned for February, three months after the creation of a warehouse distribution and fulfillment subsidiary called Isafold. Matthiasson is just awaiting the green light on expected waterfront office space but says they are set to move even if it's not ready.

"We can run the office from home if needed," he said.

Asked what kind of Icelandic goods they're already importing, he pointed to chocolate, table salt and beauty products. He added that several others who already ship to North America are eager to sign up with Isafold as a distribution partner.

"By moving the stock into the market, and letting us do the repacking and distribution all over the United States, that takes less time and money," he said. "It's a no-brainer."

He also sees more opportunities opening up for his business once Portland gets its long-awaited waterfront cold-storage facility, adding: "That would be very exciting."

Once they are settled here, he said they will hire another employee.

Matthiasson has worked in the shipping and transport sector since 1971, when he started as an "ordinary seaman" for Eimskip, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He relocated from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Norfolk, Va., in 2007 to become a general manager with Icelandic freight forwarder Jonar Transport Inc. Before starting his current business he was general manager with global logistics firm Samskip, also in Virginia.

Asked why he's so eager to set sail for Portland, he said: "It's of course the old town, the port, the smell, the restaurants, the fish market — it's unbelievable … I've even been there during a snowstorm, so we know what we're getting into."


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