Industry Looks to ASMI For Emphasis on Alaska/USA Harvest Origins

(Left) Greg Jeffers, director of the McDonalds Business Unit with Gorton’s Inc. in Gloucester, Mass. speaks during a panel discussion at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Nov. 2 “All Hands on Deck” meeting in Anchorage, which covered opportunities in the wild Alaska pollock market. (Right) Author, speaker and chef Barton Seaver of Maine, far left, leads a panel discussion on international retail needs of the seafood industry during the 2023 Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s “All Hands on Deck meeting. Photos: Margaret Bauman.

Seafood industry participants emerging from tough economic conditions in 2023 see an emphasis on the Alaska and U.S. origin of their products as a major selling point for 2024.

Most agreed during discussions at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s (ASMI) annual “All Hands on Deck” meeting in Anchorage Nov. 2-4 that an ASMI logo on all Alaska seafood products, along with the word “Alaska” itself, improved the retail marketability of all seafood harvested in the state.

The group further said adding the ASMI logo to all packaging, from frozen to canned, as well as seafood industry attire, helps promote wild Alaska seafood.

The concept of highlighting the affordability, ease and accessibility of retail product forms across media channels and increasing consumer public relations program partnerships with influencers was strongly recommended by ASMI’s communications committee. Members argued that there’s a need to shift the perception of Alaska seafood from a luxury, indulgence or special occasion item to an easy, affordable, every day, every meal option for any budget.

Addressing issues like climate impact and stock health, while highlighting industry efforts related to climate action, was also recommended during the communications discussion.

Domestic marketers called for making the Alaska story personal by increasing interactions with harvesters, and including them in videos, podcasts and in-store demonstrations. Information can be shared on social media channels to boost outreach, while educating harvesters about current global markets and supply-chain structure.

Participants in lengthy discussions on domestic marketing during the three-day meeting also recommended education on the proper treatment and handling of products by distributors and retailers to ensure quality seafood display cases. They also said ASMI’s “Cook It Frozen” campaign should be refreshed to educate consumers on how to prepare frozen seafood products.

Those engaged in international marketing also embraced the idea of highlighting the country of origin, using the ASMI label and including the word Alaska in packaging to make it clear when a product is American seafood harvested in Alaska.

Focusing on markets that have a positive relationship with the U.S. and appreciate Alaska’s gold standard fisheries management process was an action recommended by ASMI’s international marketing committee.

Participants on both the domestic and international marketing committees both identified the importance of education on proper treatment and handling of product by distributors and retailers to ensure quality in seafood displays as one of their major challenges.

From the international marketing committee, there was also a recommendation to consider how to separate Alaska seafood sustainability or responsible management from the rest of the brands making sustainability claims.

The same committee recommended giving the industry a refresher on ASMI’s Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) program, perhaps during the 2024 “All Hands on Deck.”

Discussion groups also had specific recommendations for different species, including halibut/sablefish, salmon, shellfish and whitefish.

For halibut/sablefish, they recommended partnering with a reputable celebrity chef, culinary school and/or research and development chef to create an education campaign on how to cut, cook and add value to small sablefish and to explore use of smoked sablefish in international markets.

Exploring the use of online promotions to support online sales to be delivered to consumers directly a practice in many Asian countries, was also recommended.

For salmon, the species committee recommended that ASMI provide technical support on seafood counter display best practices for retailers, including handling techniques for counter staff, and informing consumers about the quality of frozen products.

Among the key challenges for salmon products, they said, are competing on both a domestic and global scale with Russia. To help harvesters they recommended investing in partnership opportunities, such as the United Fishermen of Alaska, and educating harvesters regarding real-time market conditions.

The species committee on shellfish urged targeting holidays for crab promotion in retail and food service, continuing to promote the value of Bairdi crab in domestic markets, increasing scallop promotion and highlighting Alaska origin in labeling. Challenges facing the crab market include  uncertain harvest limits, fluctuating biomasses of species, the state of the economy and exchange rates.

The species committee on whitefish recommended highlighting the affordability, accessibility and quality of frozen Alaska whitefish species and seeking more directed funding to build demand at retail and food-service markets, including sharing home preparation and convenience recipes.

The biggest challenge facing whitefish sales was identified by the whitefish species committee as the fact that most whitefish is caught by trawl gear, with U.S. trawl fisheries facing criticism by the news media. That negative messaging fails to acknowledge that Alaska trawl fisheries are sustainably managed and have a low carbon footprint, particularly compared to trawl fisheries outside of U.S. jurisdiction, they said.

The recommendation was to improve communications including managing response to negative media, emphasizing the highly sustainable management of Alaska’s fisheries and noting that such management remains strong despite the impact of climate change stocks.