Live From IBSS: Sustainable Growth

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Live From IBSS: Sustainable Growth


Having seen success in the foodservice channel, premium fish purveyors Verlasso and Open Blue are both in growth mode – and retail is their focus.

Miami-based Verlasso, a supplier of omega-3-rich salmon that is “harmoniously raised” by methods that protect ocean biodiversity and reduce depletion of the ocean’s resources, bowed its signature product at H-E-B’s Central Market banner in Texas last month, and has its eye on more retail placements, Verlasso Director Scott E. Nichols told Progressive Grocer at the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS). Nichols noted that while in 2012, the company’s focus was on distributors and building up its regional presences with an ultimate goal of national distribution. This year, the focus was on getting into more retailers.

But they won’t all be gourmet grocers, Nichols emphasized over Verlasso chef Jennifer Bushman’s deliciously tender salmon prepared en papillote in a ginger-apricot sauce and served over rice, accompanied by a side of the company’s new delicately flavored smoked salmon product created in partnership with Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Acme Smoked Fish Corp. and marketed under the premium Blue Hill Bay Smoked Seafood label. “We won’t meet our sustainability or business goals if we don’t branch into mainstream supermarkets,” he explained.

Nichols doesn’t see luring non-foodie retailers and consumers as too much of a problem, though. Bolstered by lots of well-attended in-store tastings, the grocers that have introduced Verlasso salmon have seen success. “Everyone who gets our fish, keeps our fish,” noted Nichols of the company’s retailer partners, adding, in reference to shoppers, “People who buy it tend to keep buying it.” The main reason? “In the end, tasting good is what matters,” he observed, as well as the fact -- particularly meaningful for those wary of preparing fish – that Verlasso salmon “is very forgiving to a cook.”

Another key reason Nichols gave for consumer interest in Verlasso was its unique salmon-raising methods: neither farmed nor wild, but producing the healthiest possible product. “How your food is raised really matters,” he said. “People are becoming more inquisitive about that.”

In keeping with the company’s retail push, Nichols said that, although it was still too early to provide details, a number of rollouts to retailers were planned for this spring.

For Open Blue, also based in Miami, the goal is to bring its omega-3-rich cobia raised in deep, pristine ocean waters to the supermarket channel, after it proved popular in the foodservice arena. To accomplish this, founder and CEO Brian O’Hanlon expanded the company’s sales and marketing staff and has been engaged in setting up a new plant strategically located in Panama to supply fresh fish North America, as well as frozen product to Europe and Asia.

Company growth doesn’t include expansion to other kinds of fish, though. When PG caught up with him at IBSS, O’Hanlon said that although Open Blue’s farming platform was flexible enough to support other species, for the time being, the company was focusing on cobia.

O’Hanlon said he hoped to have Open Blue cobia in high-end retailers –“We’re not a commodity,” he explained – by the third quarter of this year. He added that the Panama facility would encompass a wide range of processing requirements, enabling it to tailor product to retailers’ specific needs. Retail promos could include demos and tastings, O’Hanlon noted, along with educational information on the company’s sustainable farming methods.

“We’re not just selling cobia,” he observed. “We’re selling the Open Blue brand.”

Co-located with Seafood Processing America and running through March 12, the International Boston Seafood Show is North America’s largest seafood trade event, attracting 19,000 buyers and sellers from more than 100 countries, and more than 1,000 exhibiting companies. The events are produced by Portland, Maine-based Diversified Business Communications.