What Makes Alaska Seafood So Special?

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute provides insight into what differentiates the product it promotes
Alaska has a long history of sustainable fishing practices.

To find out how retailers can continue to create excitement in the seafood section, Progressive Grocer connected with Megan Rider, domestic marketing director at the Juneau-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, who provided plenty of information on how her organization is doing just that, thanks to the distinctive products found in the forty-ninth state’s fish-abundant waters. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Progressive Grocer: What are the origins of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI)?

Megan Rider: In 1981, the Alaska legislature enacted a seafood levy to be approved and paid by the state’s salmon fishermen. Thus began a public-private partnership that would earn Alaska a leadership role in the wild seafood sector that has yet to be paralleled, much less bested.
ASMI is the gold standard for seafood marketing. Not only is ASMI a pioneer in this space, but every other region or brand that enters into the seafood landscape looks first to ASMI as a model. Its success and reach set the standard industry-wide.

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In the last four decades, ASMI has evolved from a small agency primarily tasked with moving canned and frozen salmon into diverse markets, to an organization that finds new market opportunities across the globe. The still relatively small organization promotes the full breadth of Alaska seafood product forms from every commercial fishery. 

PG: What seafood products does Alaska offer, and what makes the state’s seafood stand apart from other regions’ offerings?

MR: Alaska has a long history of sustainable fishing practices. Whole communities have been intimately involved with harvesting and processing Alaska seafood for generations. Here, fishing is more than just a source of income; it’s a way of life, representing a real relationship with the land and sea. This fishing culture and the connection with the resource defines communities. Alaskans depend on sustainable fish harvests, year after year, and are dedicated to protecting this important natural resource for future generations. The fish that is commercially harvested from our waters includes five species of Pacific salmon — king, sockeye, keta, coho and pink; whitefish — halibut, cod, pollock, sole/flounder, sablefish, rockfish and surimi seafood; and shellfish — crab (king, snow, Dungeness), weathervane scallops, and spot prawns.

What’s unique to seafood from Alaska is that we are the only state to have written strict conservation language into our state constitution. Since statehood in 1959, it has been mandated by the Alaska state constitution that fisheries must be maintained on the sustained yield principle. It is because of this constitutional mandate, comprehensive fisheries management platform and the proven track record that Alaska is recognized as a model of sustainability for the world.

Megan Rider
Megan Rider of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute says retailers should focus in on how seafood is the healthiest, most delicious protein shoppers can purchase.

PG: How is the sustainability of Alaska seafood ensured?

MR: In addition to Alaska being the only state to have written sustainability into its state constitution, our fisheries are dual-certified by independent sustainable seafood certification programs, Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), so you can trust our seafood is verified as sustainable.

RFM was the first certification program to be benchmarked by the rigorous Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI), and RFM standards are based on the United Nations’ FAO standards, so you can trust that they’re vetted, stable and comprehensive.

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One of the key elements of RFM certification is its Chain of Custody certification, which preserves the story of our fish so that it’s traceable through the supply chain back to its point of origin. RFM is the only program that includes the origin on every pack logo without charging a logo license fee.

PG: What does ASMI offer to help retailers sell seafood, and what new offerings are rolling out?

MR: ASMI has tools and resources to make it easy for retailers to build successful promotions, including educational materials; recipes; training in the selection, handling and uses of all varieties of wild Alaska seafood; promotional support; photographs, videos and artwork to customize your needs; ready access to seafood marketing consultants; a directory of Alaska seafood suppliers; social media support; and consumer trends data.

Our consumer trends data is critical for us in supporting retailers in their seafood marketing efforts. We have new research that we just finished working on with Circana. Our “2024 Seafood Report,” which is available on our website, looks at usage behaviors, usage trends, perceptions and drivers of seafood and other protein usage. 

Circana found that eight in 10 consumers are motivated to purchase seafood when they see the word “Alaska” or when they see the Alaska Seafood logo. Seventy-eight percent say they would pay more if they saw the Alaska Seafood logo displayed. 

PG: In creating recipes for supermarket foodservice or for consumers to try at home, how does ASMI come up with ideas and what criteria does it use?

MR: While we look at trends data, including menuing, flavor forecasts and what influencers are doing, we consider convenience and ease to be of utmost importance when developing recipes. Right now, we are cooking up new air fryer recipes, and for each recipe, we make sure that we aren’t burdening the consumer with having to buy loads of ingredients that they don’t already have in their pantries. From a taste standpoint, we focus on the popularity of global flavors that can be easily and quickly made.

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute considers convenience and ease to be the most important factors when developing on-trend recipes.

PG: How does ASMI develop its consumer-facing campaigns? What programs are currently in the pipeline?

MR: Regular market research about purchasing behaviors at foodservice and retail provides us with key insights to consumer preferences and trends. Research shows us that for cooking inspiration, consumers turn to social media, experts and easy recipes. 

The domestic marketing program works to keep abreast of the shifting tides of American palates and purchasing habits. Relationships with chefs, social media influencers and members of the media help our ASMI staff identify and roll out the many arms of consumer outreach featuring ASMI fishermen ambassadors and partner chefs. 

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We’ve seen increased reach year over year by leaning into “wild” and “taste” with our consumer campaign. We are currently running a “Cook Wild. #AskforAlaska” omnichannel consumer campaign. Alaska seafood is the ultimate wild and responsibly sourced ingredient. 

PG: What are consumers’ biggest concerns when it comes to seafood, and how can 
they be addressed?

MR: According to Circana, 62% of consumers say they are trying to increase their consumption of seafood — a higher rate than any other type of protein. The next nearest protein is chicken/poultry, at 46%. Less than one-third are trying to increase their beef, pork or plant-based proteins.

Conversely, while about one-third are trying to decrease consumption of beef and pork, very few (5%) are trying to decrease the amount of seafood they eat. 

The No. 1 reason buyers choose seafood most often is because it is perceived to be healthier overall (79%). Taste preference is also a key driver (59%). About four in 10 also say they choose seafood for environmental reasons, it’s easier to prepare and it’s thought to be higher in protein.

The best option for retailers is to focus in on seafood as the healthiest, most delicious protein shoppers can purchase. 

PG: What are retailers’ biggest concerns when it comes to seafood, and how can they be addressed?

MR: Circana asked consumers what would encourage eating more seafood, and 78% said having a greater selection (fresh and frozen) would encourage them to eat seafood more often. Price remains an issue for retailers, and offering a wide variety of seafood throughout the store, especially in frozen and deli, where it’s more affordable, is key.

Additionally, 39% of consumers said preparation instructions and recipe ideas are key to helping them purchase more seafood, and 35% said knowing the seafood retailers offer is wild-caught would encourage greater purchase of seafood. 

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