Tons of new products, trends and merchandising ideas for seafood were unloaded and sampled at the International Boston Seafood Show.
Chef Richard A. Keys was among the thousands trawling the floor of the International Boston Seafood Show for ideas. He netted quite a few on the packed-to-the-gills aisles at the three-day convention, held last month in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, steps away from Boston Harbor.
“There is a lot of development going on in value-added products,” said Keys, a co-founder of Food & Drink Resources, a Denver-based food design, development, marketing and consulting firm, and a speaker at one of the show’s educational sessions. “You see it with all food and beverage products today, but the seafood industry is strongly making a push to add value to their products,” he added, pointing out the proliferation of “speed scratch cooking” items that can be easily finished, as well as more fully-cooked products.
“I am seeing more unique products, like extruded lobster where real lobster flavor can be delivered at half the cost because they are taking the all the lobster meat off the shell, combining it with lobster protein and reforming it into a new shape, like a scallop,” Keys said. “I like the diversity we are seeing with seafood items. Some of the stuff is really, really cool. Manufacturers are bringing in a lot of ethnic flavors and making them approachable. Consumers want more and more ‘adventurous’ products.”
That is being enabled through improved technology. “The innovation is starting with the packaging people because they need that component first,” Keys said.
Case in point could be found at the Sealed Air’s Cryovac booth where Don Smith, director of marketing, poultry and seafood, for the Duncan, S.C.-based packaging company was demonstrating a roll-stock version of Oven Ease packaging, currently used for meat products, like roasts.
“We are introducing this product for seafood here at the show,” he said. “It is great for processors of frozen product and perfect for today’s consumer in terms of preparation. They really don’t have to do anything. It just goes right into the oven. We have a very reliable seal that protects the oven from splatters. We see this filling a strong, obvious need for consumers who don’t know how to cook certain products like fish.”
Alaskan Leader Seafoods, based in Seattle, was showcasing similar packaging for its new line of Alaskan Leader Oven Ready Wild Alaska Cod. Available in Thai Curry, Tuscan, Teriyaki Ginger, Lemon Pepper, Garlic Pesto, Southwest Mesquite, Asian Stir-Fry, Mornay White Sauce and Chipotle Lime Fish Taco varieties, consumers simply pull off the paper outer label, put it in a pan, toss it in the oven and in 35 minutes dinner is served.
“We just had the governor of Alaska here at our booth and he loved it,” said Keith Singleton, president. “It is a dinner for two with no mess or smell.”
Beaver Street Fisheries was also touting its value-added Seasoned Selections and new Sea Best Signature frozen lines, including entrées like Potato Crusted Cod, Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Flounder, Tomato & Herb Salmon, Shrimp & Grits, Tilapia Florentine, Stuffed Clams, Mango Crusted Swai and Maine Lobster Cakes. Many of the items have just been placed in Hannaford, Shaw’s and Winn-Dixie.
“All of our items are raw product that has to be cooked, but are already seasoned, stuffed and hand-made,” said Rick Armstrong, national sales manager at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Beaver Street Fisheries. “We worked with Cryovac and came up with oven- and microwave-ready trays. As a company, we have way more things to offer than what Gorton’s does.”
Beaver Street was also showcasing its new Fish Finder program, an online and in-store marketing effort being tested in Delhaize’s Harveys Supermarkets division to help consumers select the right fish.
“Fish Finder is designed to take down the walls and intimidation around buying fish and preparing it at home,” said Bluzette M. Carline, marketing manager at Beaver Street. Fish are divided into three categories: Mild, Medium and Robust, and simple recipes are offered. “Our next phase will be pairing, including a vegetable and a starch,” she said.
“We did a lot of consumer research and asked them what stops them from buying seafood,” Carline said. “We then asked consumers what they thought about this Fish Finder program and we got a lot of positive feedback.”
Officials at Pacific Seafood were also getting lots of positive feedback about their new line of Sea Passion brand hot smoked and cold smoked fish items including Nova Lox and Wild Alaskan smoked salmon, as well as the company’s other products, including an innovative square shrimp burger. “We have seven full shrimp per patty, and the big difference is that there is no filler—just the actual shrimp and the breading,” said Bob O’Bryant, marketing director, for Clackamas, Ore.-based Pacific Seafood. “This will be oven ready and hitting the market soon.”
Shrimp was also big at Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods. The company’s booth was larger this year and the actual mermaid who offered to have her picture taken with passersby proved to be a big draw. “Having the mermaid at the show is new for us,” said Brenden Beck, senior vice president, sales and marketing, for El Segundo, Calif.-based Chicken of the Sea.
Once lured in by her siren’s song of a flashing smile, conventioneers learned what company officials said sets Chicken of the Sea frozen shrimp, cans and cups of crabmeat and other seafood apart from the rest. “There is a benefit in that we are an established brand that has that trust factor, and in this [frozen shrimp] category there are not a lot of recognizable brands,” Beck said. “We are the largest single shrimp importer in the U.S. On our pasteurized crabmeat side we do drive the brand, but we also do a lot of private label business. We are focusing towards major retailers and foodservice operators, including the wholesale and club businesses.”
Fresh frozen scallops were the featured attraction at Clearwater Seafoods. Based in Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada, the company’s scallops are MSC certified and harvested from the waters of the Canadian North Atlantic, said Stephanie McGovern, director, U.S. retail, in the company’s Leesburg, Va. office. “Our newest product is Scallops & Sauce, made from the finest Patagonian scallops,” she said.
HD—as in High Demand—herring was a featured attraction from the Olsen Fish Co. And after sampling a fillet in wine, cream, dill or Cajun sauce, visitors learned everything there was to know about the Minneapolis-based company’s other key product—lutefisk.
“We are the largest producer of lutefisk in the world,” said Don Sobasky, sales representative. “Lutefisk is a dried piece of cod that we get from Norway and reconstitute it. That opens up the pores and lets more water soak in and it gets about eight to 10 times its original size. It is a gelatinous fish that is often cooked at church dinners. Norwegians love it. You can boil it in water or put it in the oven for a half hour with spices and put hot butter on it and it tastes exactly like cod. It is really wonderful!”
In addition to individual companies, buyers and other attendees visited the many state, regional, national and international association booths scattered among the convention’s 26 aisles.
“The show’s been great and we’ve had wonderful meetings with a number of retail chains,” said Larry Andrews, retail marketing director in the Seattle office of the Juneau, Alaska-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Interest in wild seafood is very high. There has been lots of chatter about summer promotions and even talk about going into next Lenten season.”
Andrews says his members are seeing a lot more interest in Keta salmon than they have seen before. “We’re looking at a promotion with a partner, Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, for Keta and doing whole sides where they can be stuffed and we teach the consumer how to grill that whole fish. We are looking at pairing the wines with the flavor profiles from those recipes and we’re offering a promotion where we are promoting both products.”
At the other end of the show floor, visitors stopping by the Mississippi Seafood Pavilion could sample oysters from Crystal Seas. “Their oysters are treated with irradiation that kills the bacteria and makes it a much safer product,” said Irvin Jackson, director, Mississippi Seafood Marketing at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, based in Biloxi, Miss.
Three of the state’s shrimp processors were also participants in the pavilion. “They are all featuring shrimp and Gulf Pride is featuring some of its value-added products, one of which is in the top 10 for new products at the show this year,” Jackson said. “It is all wild-caught, American seafood. I think that makes a difference to consumers. They want to come back to made in America. Seafood from other countries often isn’t tested and our seafood is the safest, most tested seafood in the world.”
Nearby at the Louisiana pavilion, Ewell Smith, executive director of the New Orleans-based Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board, was showcasing all of the point-of-sale materials available for retailers. “We’re here to help them and to provide these materials to them for free,” he said. “We build those relationships for the trade and develop marketing programs to help promote our products at the national level.”
One of those is a tribute to Mike Voisin, a noted oysterman and the creator of the Louisiana Seafood Board, who died unexpectedly in February. “Every restaurant in New Orleans, the state or the nation can do this,” Smith said. “You take three key ingredients—oysters, breading and spinach—add other ingredients and do whatever you want to it to make it your own Oysters Voisin. It is a way for us to carry his name forward. This may eventually get to the supermarkets to do something similar in their seafood case.”
Bayou Shrimp Processors was one of the company’s represented at the Louisiana pavilion, and was displaying the clear bags used for its Paul Piazza brand of shrimp. “A lot of people like the clear bag because you can see the whole product,” said Shepherd Baumer, Jr., president of the Delcambre, La.-based company.
“Most of the domestic shrimp is sold raw,” Baumer added. “We offer EZ-Peel, but a lot of domestic companies don’t offer EZ-Peel because it is hard competing on the labor.”
Across the aisle, the Scottish pavilion was buzzing with people trying samples of Scottish smoked salmon and other delicacies. “We’re a big player but we’re quite small in the global scheme of things,” said David Sandison, general manager of Shetland Aquaculture, based on Shetland, Scotland, noting that Scotland is the third biggest producer of salmon in the world, with the U.S. being its biggest export market.
“We’re using this show to meet with the key people that we are doing business with to make sure that our relationship is actually on solid foundations,” Sandison said.
Samples were big at the show. One of the more unusual items was the fish jerky being sampled at the Japan pavilion, which housed eight exhibitors. Made with bonito, it had a crispy texture and a taste reminiscent of bacon.
But on the other side of the booth the line was long for the samples of hamatchi sushi made with yellowtail and sampled in stylish little aluminum trays.
“One of the unique things about this yellowtail is that they feed the fish a green tea, which has a really positive effect on the coloration of the meat,” said Ethan Mandel, senior account executive with MSA Partners, the New York-based public relations firm promoting Japanese seafood in the U.S. “They also use a humane slaughter method, which, in the end, the fish doesn’t hurt and the meat stays softer because the nerves don’t tense up. It is a win-win situation for both the fish and the consumer.”
Food safety was front and center on many buyers’ minds. Alexander Miller, staff economist at the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, based in Ocean Springs, Miss., pointed out that American Gulf shrimp now feature bags with a QR code that allows consumers to trace the product. “For the first time we actually have a traceability component that is built in to make sure that the product that the consumer is buying actually came from the Gulf Coast,” he said.
The program uses electronic traceability tools that track the movement of the shrimp from the vessel to the dock, processor, dealer—all the way to the retailer. “We’ve combined the marketing part here with the traceability part and it is going pretty well,” said Miller.