Q&A with Larry Andrews, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

Larry Andrews, retail marketing director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), tells GHQ what retailers can expect in the coming year in the seafood industry and offers tips on promoting local product.

What obstacles or concerns are facing the seafood industry currently?

Larry Andrews: 2012 may prove to be another tough year in the seafood business due to a still-struggling economy in the U.S., along with widespread uncertainty in Europe and Asia. Success may hinge not only on prices but on creative merchandising to draw consumers’ attention as well.

Consumers are asking for more information on where products are from, which goes beyond Country of Origin (COO) information. I think that retailers need to go further than just Product of USA and I recommend being as specific as possible; in the case of Alaska products it may mean calling out a region—Bristol Bay, Alaska, for example.

Generic marketing does not capture the customer’s imagination nor differentiate one store from another. Providing cooking and health information can also be helpful in engaging consumers. Plain and simple, consumers want to know more about the products they’re purchasing.

To this end, we find that training counter staff is critical to the success of that seafood department. Our research shows that 68% of consumers turn to counter staff with questions about seafood. Retailers have the opportunity to develop rapport with customers through a knowledgeable and well-trained staff. In the case of Alaska seafood we can aid them in their training efforts through our interactive online training at www.AlaskaSeafoodU.com.

Retailers are increasingly interested in ensuring product they sell comes from a sustainable fishery. How has ASMI addressed this in the marketplace?

As you know sustainability is written into the Alaska state constitution, codified by law. However we realize that in some cases independent, third-party certification is desired. To that end we provide third-party certification based on the highest international standard set forth by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This new certification is based on the FAO-Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Guidelines for Ecolabeling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries, both recognized around the globe as the best benchmark for credible certification.

So far Alaska Salmon, Alaska Halibut, Alaska Black Cod/Sablefish and Alaska Pollock have been certified. Alaska Cod and Crab are scheduled for 2012.

For Alaska fisheries, third-party certification is merely a marketing tool that provides assurance to retailers and foodservice operators that our fish are responsibly managed.

How does ASMI use technology to share information about its product with consumers?

We created an excellent resource for learning how to cook frozen seafood without thawing, www.cookitfrozen.com. It not only provides how-to technique videos but also enables users to search recipes by species or by cooking technique. Complementary apps for iPhone, iPad and Android are available for download.

We also cultivated a rich network of bloggers that review the COOK IT FROZEN! Techniques and recipes. They then share their opinions with their large networks, influencing purchase of Alaska seafood.

What do you predict to happen in the industry over the next year or so?

We’ll witness an increased focus on products harvested in the United States and on American jobs. I believe that consumers will use their dollar as their vote and the buy local movement will continue to grow. In the case of Alaska, as you know, the seafood industry is the largest employer with an estimated harvesting and processing workforce of 70,548 industry employees.

Alaska’s seafood industry is an economic engine for both the state and the nation. Alaska accounted for over 52 percent of the volume of the commercial seafood harvested in the United States and Alaska’s Pollock fishery is the largest in the United States, accounting for 24 percent of total U.S. fisheries landings.

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