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Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative – Job One: Building our brand; securing our price

PORTLAND, ME – Lobster fishermen, you should know that the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) is working hard for your industry, our industry.

We remember every day that we exist because of the fees lobster license holders pay.  We respect the hard work that pays for our efforts.  We know why we are here and we are excited to drive results.

Maine lobster is uniquely positioned to go in a bold new direction this year.

Matt Jacobson. (MLMC photo)

Matt Jacobson.
(MLMC photo)

But as we plan for high season this summer and look ahead at the lobster industry in future years, we wanted to take a quick look back at how we got to where we are today – and what our next steps will be to move forward in exciting new ways.

 

Why we exist 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the lobster catch in the US doubled between 2003 and 2012.

During that time, the price of lobster fell nearly 30%.  This situation peaked in the 2011 and 2012 Maine lobster seasons when our catch went up to 120 million pounds and our price plummeted.

In 2012, there was a growing support in the industry to find a solution to this price volatility.

Some focused on fishing regulations and looked for ways to reduce the catch in an effort to shrink supply and stabilize prices.

But others focused on creating enough demand that we could continue to catch whatever nature provided and get a fair price for the effort.

In 2013, the Maine Legislature passed legislation that provided significant funding for a professional marketing effort, and the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative was born.

 

Building our brand

Maine lobster enjoys certain attributes that give us an excellent opportunity to create more demand that will stabilize prices.

People all over the county prefer to know where there food comes from, who produces it and how is that accomplished.  They are looking for authentic stories and sustainable practices.

People are looking for things that are made by hand and not by a factory – they are looking for Maine lobster.  They just don’t know it yet!

Our story of individual fishermen who catch and inspect every lobster by hand has incredible appeal to our target market around the country.

The fact that our lobstermen have enforced sustainability since the late 1800s is unique and attractive.

And then there is Maine – this beautiful rugged land is the only place in the world that has Maine lobster.  People all over the country have fondness for our state and the beauty of our coastline.

While we have significant advantages, we are not immune from competition.

There are other species that compete for space on plates.

Canada, with its necessary processing and competitive/complimentary catch is a particularly complex relationship.

The month-to-month supply fluctuation over the year also works against our goal of getting a stable and fair price for Maine lobster.

 

Work underway

But with a clear mandate and a solid opportunity, the collaborative is busy.

Last year saw the formation of the new board – mandated by the legislation to include four harvesters, three processor/dealers, two commissioners, and two members of the public.

Each of our board members was nominated by one of the Zone Councils, or the Lobster Advisory Council, and may serve two, three-year terms.

Also in 2014, the board gathered information and advice about strategy and the market.

A lot of the effort concentrated on identifying who actually buys Maine lobster and how do we get them to want it more often.

Since more than 80% of all seafood consumption in the US happens in restaurants, we decided to focus on the “food-service” channel as our primary target.

We attended several events and formed a partnership with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

We hired an executive director to guide the effort and insure financial and professional integrity.

And we concluded an extensive evaluation process to select a communications firm to help us spread the word about Maine Lobster.

Last December, the board selected Weber Shandwick to help us.  Weber is responsible for “Got Milk,” “The Other White Meat,” and many other successful food marketing efforts.

We are fortunate to have them on our team.  And we expect big things from them on our behalf.

 

Big year ahead

This year, you should expect to see us begin a very focused tactical effort to showcase Maine lobster.

Currently we are busy rebuilding our digital presence.  We will relaunch our website and social media efforts in June.  We will create content that will drive interest in Maine lobster.

One of our challenges is that most of the chefs in the US don’t know why Maine lobster is so much better than anything else they’ve ever cooked.

We are going to convince them that “new shell” lobsters are sweeter, more tender, and taste better than any other lobster in the world.

We are going to capitalize on our seasonality – the romance that comes when you can only get the best lobster when Maine lobstermen are on the water.

We are going to drive demand when our supply is highest.

We are going to stabilize the price during our peak volume times.

We are also collecting stories of individual fishermen that we will share with the media.

Our authentic stories are in great demand and we are going to make Maine lobstermen rock stars in 2015 and beyond.

We are going to make a big noise as this year’s harvest gets started. Stay tuned for exciting things coming in 2015 and the years ahead.

For more information, stop by the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative booth at this year’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum and Trade Show, or visit us online at <www.lobsterfrommaine.com>.

Matt Jacobson is executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative.  He can be reached by phone at (207) 541-9310 or via e-mail at <mjacobson@lobsterfrommaine.com>.

 

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