Is It Fresh? You Bet.

Is It Fresh? You Bet.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

UNH researchers support efforts to market New Hampshire-caught seafood.

Customers line up to buy fresh fish at the Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative’s new retail store in Seabrook, N.H. Charlie French, UNH Cooperative Extension associate professor, helped with the Coop’s marketing strategies.

Customers line up to buy fresh fish at the Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative’s new retail store in Seabrook, N.H. Charlie French, UNH Cooperative Extension associate professor, helped with the Coop’s marketing strategies.

The Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative in Seabrook, N.H., has just opened a new retail store. On a steamy hot morning in early August, customers have been lined up to buy fish since 9 a.m. The store officially opens at 10 a.m., but behind the counter, Steve Lauermann, a former fisherman himself, just shrugs and with a smile and keeps ringing up customers.

UNH Cooperative Extension Associate Professor Charlie French grins and remarks that it’s on the weekend that the store will really be hopping. French works with Erik Chapman, UNH assistant extension professor and N.H. Sea Grant fisheries specialist. Together, they have identified alternative markets for New Hampshire-caught seafood and mapped out marketing strategies to support New Hampshire’s fishermen.

The Coop’s new retail store is part of that strategy.

With only 18 miles of coastline and just under 100 fishermen, New Hampshire’s commercial fishing industry is small compared to its neighbors, Maine and Massachusetts. Still it’s a vital part of the state’s economy and culture. In 2011, the state’s fishing industry was estimated to have brought in $106 million and contributed to the creation and retention of 5,000 full-time and part-time jobs (Magnusson, 2011).

Nonetheless the influx of low-cost, imported seafood has displaced domestic seafood in many commercial markets in the region. And, a recent regulatory shift to sector management and quota allocations for the groundfish industry (cod, haddock, flounder, etc.) has further stressed the state fishery.

“To survive, New Hampshire’s fishermen need to reduce their overhead and increase the value of their product in order to make a larger profit,” says French.

This means increasing efficiencies in the cost of handling, transportation, processing, and distribution. Marketing is, of course, key.

About two years ago, the state’s seafood brand, “New Hampshire Fresh and Local,” was launched. The brand is a collaboration of UNH Cooperative Extension, N.H. Sea Grant, the N.H. Commercial Fisherman’s Association, Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative, and local seafood groups, restaurants, and fish markets. They represent a commitment of all the state’s major fishery stakeholders to work together.

New Hampshire Fresh and Local graphic

Already, a number of retail outlets and restaurants in the Seacoast carry the Fresh and Local brand. Local here is defined as within a 15-mile radius of the Seacoast. The brand ensures that the species marketed are managed sustainably and that there is confidence in their point of origin.

Understanding the needs of local consumers, restaurants, and retail outlets remains critical. UNH Cooperative Extension is pulling together key research findings that identify consumer behaviors, attributes, and desires to help target new markets and value-added products.

First, American consumers opt to buy what they want regardless of eco-labels. The various eco-labels are confusing and none have effectively dominated the U.S. market. Even labels such as “farmed fish” versus “wild caught” do not indicate clear preferences to consumers.

Most consumers are not familiar with fish species outside of a small range of traditionally marketed fish.

Yet, consumers consider fish to be a healthy part of their diet, and they’d like it to be sustainably or ethically produced. It matters that it is locally caught, since freshness is a key attribute for consumers.

As well, consumers often react to stories in the media regarding contamination of fish by mercury or other toxins. While contamination is a concern for some species, such as bluefin tuna, that does not mean that all species of tuna contain high levels of mercury. Consequently, for consumers to make informed seafood choices, a fair amount of consumer education needs to go along with marketing efforts.

French adds a few more thoughts: “Consumers seem to buy shrimp by the size. For example, tiger prawns from Thailand and the South China Sea, which one is likely to see at the local grocery store, are farmed using big aerators that can be environmentally destructive. How do we get consumers to shift to small but sweet Gulf of Maine shrimp that is sustainable and needs no deveining?”

New Hampshire’s shrimp market, which runs from December to March, has developed some “buzz.”

French recalls two winters ago when the Coop decided to sell shrimp at the Exeter winter farmer’s market, they sold 500 pounds in the first 30 minutes. Ultimately, they sold 1,500 pounds of shrimp that day. Now they have recipes for Gulf of Maine shrimp and species such as redfish available on their website and via recipe cards at farmers markets.

Adding value-added seafood is a logical progression. This can range from selling steamed lobsters, to lobster ravioli, to pollock fish sticks.

Meanwhile, the Coop’s new retail store will continue to build the New Hampshire Fresh and Local Brand.

For Joanne Meoli from Epping, N.H., her consumer choice was simple.

“It’s my first time here. I just heard about it,” says Meoli. “I bought haddock, scallops, and lobster meat. I came here to buy because it’s fresh.”

Sources and researchers Magnusson (2011). Economic Impact of the NH Seafood Industry. Published by New Hampshire Sea Grant and Sea Grant Extension. Available on-line at: http://extension.unh.edu/CommDev/documents/NH_Fishing_Economy.pdf The research team includes Alberto Manalo, associate professor of environmental and resource economics, and Kelly Cullen, associate professor natural resource economics, from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, as well as Tyler Mac Inness, master’s degree student in the Development, Policy, and Practice Program.

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