Opinion: Tweaking the market strategy
By Mari-Len De Guzman
For those who are fans of the popular TV show, Friends, the title of this editorial might conjure up an image of characters Ross Geller, Rachel Green and Chandler Bing trying to move an enormous sofa up a flight of stairs in an apartment building. Ross was repeatedly yelling, “Pivot!” to his friends as they try to turn the furniture on a corner, but with no success. The sofa was just too big to manuevre in a narrow stairwell with sharp corners.
Pivoting is what many RAS producers have had to do recently amid the growing impact of business closures and travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19. A “half-glass-full” perspective would point out that the global pandemic, despite its negative consequences, has boosted the argument for local production in food security. The poster child for this in the seafood industry is land-based aquaculture: locally-grown, sustainable production close to markets – in theory.
The reality is that for all its local glory, RAS producers – like many food manufacturers – have had to tweak business strategies to adapt to this new normal. A big chunk of customers for seafood – the restaurant industry – had all but disappeared overnight, leaving producers to re-think their sales and distribution strategies.
With a little innovative thinking and a lot of flexibility, however, many of them have found new market channels to divert their products to. From the more obvious retail and supermarket channels to a less traditional “direct-to-consumer” route, these new market opportunities are not only providing revenue streams in an otherwise uncertain economy, but it’s also inadvertently increasing the profile of RAS-grown, sustainable seafood to consumers. How the RAS sector will leverage this remains to be seen.
One novel approach is being tested out by Ideal Fish. The company recently started selling its Branzino through its e-commerce platform, directly to consumers. But that’s not what piqued my interest. The company’s sales and marketing director, James MacKnight, tells me he is currently in talks with other RAS producers to bring their own brands into Ideal Fish’s e-commerce program.
“I am a huge believer in RAS in general. Instead of just selling our own fish online, we are reaching out to other domestic RAS company. We’d love to get their fish in here and we want to put it up online with our fish so the consumers could come to Idealfish.com and they are able to buy a phenomenal selection of top quality, domestically produced RAS products,” explains MacKnight. He also envisions a future where supermarkets will have a separate aisle for RAS-grown fish.
The technology for RAS has matured and commercial projects are continuing to increase. It’s now time to put some innovative thinking into marketing and raising the sector’s profile among consumers. Buyers can get on board with land-based aquaculture if they are given accurate information. Now more than ever, consumers are more environmentally conscious and increasingly want to learn where their food comes from. It’s up to this industry to tell a compelling story based on the facts.
We are all here because RAS has a great sustainability story to tell. So get your thinking caps on and, pivot!