Hooked on a feeling

Buyers high on believing in the power of seafood trawled the International Boston Seafood Show looking for the latest trends and ideas.

Seafood lovers were in heaven at this year’s International Boston Seafood Show. A record 13,000 attendees packed the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in mid-March fishing for merchandising ideas and the latest in new products to bring back to their customers from the 1,019 exhibitors—100 more than last year.

The excitement started on the first aisle where New Orleans Fish House was kicking it up a notch by displaying and sampling its new line of Emeril’s Cajun Creations entrées that put “The Big Easy right in your freezer.” The line includes Seafood Pastalava, Seafood Jambalaya, Seafood Gumbo, Corn & Crab Bisque, Clam Chowder, Crawfish Etouffee and Lobster Bisque, retails for $5.99 to $6.99 and is manufactured in Louisiana.

“We developed this line in only about six months after the BP oil spill, which is really unheard of, to balance out the potential loss on Gulf shrimp sales,” said Michael Ketchum, director of retail sales at New Orleans-based New Orleans Fish House.

A few aisles down, a wide variety of entrees and appetizers were on display at the Inland Foods booth including the surefire hit Seafood Tortas—a cream-cheese based seafood spreads garnished with artisanal toppings and available in four varieties: Crab & Artichoke with Sundried Tomatoes; Smoked Salmon with Ginger, Sesame & Wasabi; Maine Lobster with Roasted Corn & Basil; and Shrimp Provencal with Roasted Tomatoes, Zucchini & Basil. “These are packaged in attractive plastic domes that are easily unmolded for easy serving and create a beautiful presentation,” said Evan Pihera, the project manager at Atlanta-based Inland who created the line.

Netting associations
With their knowledgeable staffs, booths belonging to state, national and trade associations were must-stops for seafood buyers.

“We are showing our new case dividers,” said Larry Andrews, retail marketing director in the Seattle office of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Retailers can use them to goal post their Alaska section. This is something different and new for retailers. They can use it to call out their Alaskan selections because the origin issue is such a strong one. A good thing for retailers to do is to continue to call out that origin issue.”

Sustainability and the environment played a key role at this year’s show.  At the Oregon booth, John Corbin, chairman of the Oregon Seafood Commission, was handing out toothpicks of moist, sweet Dungeness crab tailfin meat while pointing out that Oregon Dungeness crab is MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified. “Our crab is the best-tasting crab on the market, and is caught by family fishermen whose legacy goes back over 100 years,” he said.

Over at the Louisiana Seafood pavilion, Ewell Smith, executive director of the New Orleans-based Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board was pointing out that Louisiana blue crab is also MSC certified, a distinction that has only been awarded to the state’s 3,000 blue crab commercial fishermen. “They have to meet all kinds of stringent requirements to get MSC certification,” Smith said. “It is pretty strict. We started doing this the same time as we were developing our own certification. That is probably a year away from being implemented and will be for all of our species. We are also working on developing programs specifically for retailers. There is a lot of exciting stuff coming down the pike specifically for the retail trade.”

For the first time, Louisiana brought along several of its vendors to showcase their wares directly to buyers. Paul Corne, general manager of Lafitte, La.-based Bayou Barataria Foods was frying up and sampling batches of his Shrimp Nuggets. “Our Shrimp Nuggets are produced with Louisiana shrimp. They’re made with over 60% shrimp, breading, seasoning,” he said. “Right now we only have an institutional size, but we are coming out with a retail pack in the next couple of months that will be sold for under $5.00.”

Visitors to the neighboring Scotland booth learned that 2011 was the largest-ever export year for Scottish salmon to the U.S., and there is a goal to increase output to the U.S. by $30 million over the next three years. “We’ve got a couple of producers here on the stand that already have business in the States and clearly they want to develop our product with existing and new customers,” said David Sandison, secretary of Scottish Quality Salmon, based in the Shetland Islands.

“We have airfreight that goes into nine different U.S. destinations, including Florida,” Sandison said. “We can have a fresh salmon in the U.S. within 24 hours of its coming out of the sea. We harvest in the early morning, have it gutted and iced at the packing plant by lunchtime and distributed to the depot for airfreight by 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon.”

Chinese catfish
Seth A. Souza, national sales manager for Mount Prospect, Ill.-based Samsui Howard Group Co., (USA) Ltd., was talking about what makes his company’s imported catfish and tilapia so special. “Our catfish is a domestic species, but it is farm-raised in China because the labor and everything else is so much less expensive there, but it is the exact same fish,” he said.

Today most of the prawns consumed in America are imported from China, but the American Prawn Cooperative, based in Walstonburg, N.C., is seeking to change that. “Our prawns are grown in crystal-clear fresh water where there is no fishing, boat runoff, pollution, and we don’t use chemicals, antibiotics or pesticides,” Chad E. Jacobs, an APC member with a farm in Clinton, N.C., said over the din of the patriotic music emanating from his booth. “We also have a process where we can take the vein and naturally remove it while the animal is still alive.

Unlike shrimp, which are bottom feeders, prawns actually hunt their prey, Jacobs said. “We have our own processing facility and now that we are trying to get into retail we can pretty much pack to suit to the customer’s specifications,” he said.

Surimi Snackers
The trend in healthy on-the-go snacking has led Trans Ocean Products to develop its newest product, Seafood Snackers.

“We did some focus groups and realized that a lot of health-conscious people are eating our product right out of the bag for weight loss,” said Louis Shaheen, vice president, sales and marketing in Bellingham, Wash.-based Trans Ocean’s Chapel Hill, N.C. office.

“Seafood Snackers is a pack of four of these sticks. They are omega-3 fortified, American Heart Association certified, reduced sodium and we are trying to spur consumer trial by having a low price point that will attract new users to the category.”

At its booth Jacksonville, Fla.-based Beaver Street Fisheries was displaying several new products, including its Seasoned Selections line of Lemon & Pink Peppercorn Tilapia, Thai Chili Salmon and Tuscan Mahi.

When people had their fill of seafood many stopped by the Blount Foods booth, where in addition to lobster bisque and crab soup they could also sample some non-seafood based products. “We have three new Panera salads that we are starting for the summer, including Napa Chicken with raisins, Edamame, and a Tabbouleh made with cucumber and dill,” said Tennie Lawrenson, executive assistant/corporate services at Fall River, Mass.-based Blount Foods.    

Bridging the Gulf
The guests were lured into the breakfast meeting at the International Boston Seafood Show with the promise of delicate crepes stuffed with fresh Gulf shrimp, oysters and snapper, plus a chance to win an all-expense-paid trip to Panama City, but the real treat was learning about the new Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition, its www.eatgulfseafood.com website and how it aims to rebuild seafood sales in the five Gulf Coast states that were decimated by the 2010 BP oil spill.

“We are not just about seafood, even though that is our website’s and group’s name,” said Chris Nelson, vice president of Bon Secour Fisheries in Bon Secour, Ala., and vice chairman of the coalition. “We have members from the department of tourism, charter boat representatives and members of recreational fishing, as well as the people in the seafood business. I really think that is what makes this effort special.”

The Coalition was created to get the news out about all the efforts by local, state and federal governments to get the word out that the seafood coming out of the Gulf is in fact safe. The website has links for retailers and consumers and will eventually contain hundreds of seafood recipes.

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