Netting new ideas

An ocean full of merchandising opportunities awaits attendees of the International Boston Seafood Show.

By Richard Turcsik

According to the recently re­leased 2010 Dietary Guide­lines for Americans from the USDA, all Amer­icans ages 2 and older—especially pregnant and breast-feeding women—should eat two to three servings (8 to 12 ounces) of seafood a week. Many of us fall far short of that goal.

In a bid to lure more shoppers to the seafood case, expect a record haul of retailers to attend this month’s 2011 International Boston Seafood Show to fish around for the latest hot products, merchandising ideas and trends.

“Pregnant women currently eat about 1.89 ounces of seafood a week, so to get to 8 or 12 ounces would be a significant increase in seafood consumption and sales in just that sub-population,” says Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, based in McLean, Va. “When you look at the broad market, consumers eat 15.8 pounds of seafood a year. That’s it. So if they’re eating 8 to 12 ounces a week, it will be a significant increase in consumption and a significant impact on public health.”

Current consumption is a drop in the bucket, Gibbons says. “Americans eat 110 pounds of red meat a year and 75 pounds of poultry. So when you are looking at an animal protein where you could consume more and it would do more for public health there is only one—and that’s seafood.”

According to Gibbons, Americans like milder, white fish, which is why Pangasius, a farmed, meaty, white fish imported from Southeast Asia (mostly Vietnam), has cracked the Top 10 list for the first time and will likely be featured at many a booth at the show. “Pangasius is one of those fish that is well-accepted into the market because it freezes well and is very versatile. It’s similar to catfish, but is not catfish, per se. There’s been a debate about that for regulatory reasons.”

While Pangasius is relatively new on the scene, one of the oldest fish products—canned tuna—is using advertising to hook more consumers. A first-time campaign from the Tuna Council, which began running in January, touts the benefits of tuna. The council represents the three major canneries—Bumble Bee, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea. “The campaign includes TV, a print aspect and out-of-home advertising, in this particular case, ads in health clubs,” Gibbons says. “It’s designed to remind people of tuna or re-introduce them to it because of tuna’s versatility and availability. It’s a fairy inexpensive way to get your Omega-3s.”

Mahi Mahi is another firm, white-fleshed species quickly growing in popularity.  Look for Sea Salt and Roasted Garlic Mahi to be among the products sampled at Booth 305, where Atlanta-based Inland Market Premium Foods is dropping anchor. “We are one of the longest running exhibitors at the show,” says Steve Musser, vice president, national sales. “We’ll be renting a couple of coffin cases from the show and making a display of what our product looks like in some of the Kroger or Safeway divisions that we are currently in,” he says.

The Ruby Bay brand Smoked Mahi Mahi Spread sampled at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco was such a hit that Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Acme Smoked Fish Corp. is serving it up again in Boston. “It’s made with smoked Mahi, some mayo, sweet relish and jalapeño and is just fabulous,” says Buzz Billik, sales manager. “The Mahi that we are using primarily is from Ecuador. It’s an all-wild, fancy, high-grade product that works very nicely in the salad. We sell it in 5-pound pails for foodservice, a 1-pound container, which Costco has expressed interest in, and based on its popularity at the Fancy Food Show we’ve decided to come out with a 6- or 7-ounce retail cup for grab-and-go deli and seafood.”

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s booth is always a popular spot, and this year visitors can learn about sustainability, says Larry Andrews, retail marketing director of the Juneau, Alaska-based trade association. “We’ll once again be promoting our smart phone app to scan quick response (QR) codes. But be­yond that it will be pretty much business as usual. Nutrition, flavor and taste are the things that we really promote first and foremost.”

Flexing some mussels   
Linda Duncan, executive director of the Mussel Industry Council, based in Charlotte­town, Prince Edward Island, Canada, will be trawling the show floor hoping to get more retailers to put fresh mussels in their seafood case. “Our association won’t have a booth, but some of our members are going to be there selling their products,” she says.

Since 5 pounds of mussels serve five people, Duncan notes that mussels are being billed as an affordable treat. They are also gaining popularity. “Last year, when the oil spill caused some of the Gulf fish and shellfish to be removed from menus and sale lists, mussels replaced them, so we have benefited there,” Duncan says. “Our mussels sales and percentage of the market have increased.”

Lobster has also become surprisingly affordable of late. In fact, Linda Bean, owner of Port Clyde, Maine-based Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster, will be showcasing her frozen, cooked, pre-scored lobster claws that are so reasonably priced Walmart has picked them up. “We’re hoping our newly designed bag will be featured in the New Product Showcase,” she says.

Expect lines to be forming at her booth when she samples her newest product—Linda Bean’s Maine Pasta Lobster Traps. “It’s ravioli that’s so unique I’ve applied for a trademark on the name,” she says. “They are fairly sizable, in a rectangle shape, like a lobster trap, and contain whole chunks of lobster, rather than the paste which you see in the other brands that are on the market now. We also have a Lobster Parmesan Cream Sauce to go with it that will also be sold frozen in a separate package,” she says.

Freshwater finds
Crawfish, often described as the lobster’s freshwater cousin, will be the star at the booth of New Orleans-based A La Carte Specialty Food, where crawfish cakes, poppers and breaded oysters will be showcased. “There are crab cakes everywhere, but I think we’re the only ones with a crawfish cake,” says Karl Turner, president. “Our cake is about 60% whole crawfish tail meat. The taste is more like lobster, so the meat is unlike crab meat altogether,” he says. “We only have about 10% breading, plus some seasoning and spices, and you can bake it, broil it, pan sauté it and even deep-fry it, if you want. Some people are using them as burgers, while others are going much more upscale, grilling them and topping with shrimp or crabmeat and drizzling with a sauce.”

And rainbow trout lovers will find a pot of gold at the booth of Buhl, Idaho-based Clear Springs Foods, Inc., which will be displaying and sampling its full line of rainbow trout products, including fresh, cut trout, as well as its value-added trout offerings, including its new Trout Almondine and Fresh Pecan Crusted Trout.

“They have a 14-day shelf life and since we have our own trucks we can deliver them fresh all over the U.S.,” says Don Riffle, executive vice president of sales and marketing. He adds that the products are packaged in a foodservice pack and designed to be sold through the fresh case.

“In addition to trout, we have three Swai value-added items: Country Cornmeal, Citrus Sesame and Panko,” Riffle says. “They hold up very, very well in the fresh case, and it’s great because they basically have no shrink going into the case,” he says. “All of these items merchandise very well in the fresh case and that is how we will feature them at the Boston Seafood Show.”

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