Gulf States Join Forces to Create Regional Brand for Marketing Gulf Seafood
by Mark Evans/Louisiana Seafood News
The Gulf of Mexico produces 70 percent of the nation’s oysters and 69 percent of its domestic shrimp. Until recently, however, the states along the Gulf Coast did not work together to market seafood under one, unified brand.
That changed almost two years ago with the creation of the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition, which brought together the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to coordinate efforts on promoting the region’s seafood industry.
The Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation under a grant from the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission formed the coalition. The coalition coordinates promotion efforts and helps provide “a cohesive vision and overarching strategy to showcase Gulf Coast seafood.”
Joanne McNeely, seafood marketing coordinator for the Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, said the coalition was established as a result of the damage the Gulf suffered during the BP oil spill. Since then, it has served as a rallying point for recovery of the region’s seafood industry.
“In the last few years, we’ve found ourselves in the middle of a ‘perfect storm’ (oil spill and hurricanes) that has challenged the confidence of trade and consumers about the safety of Gulf seafood,” she said.
Founded in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the five Gulf state’s seafood marketing directors hold seats on the coalition’s board.
“Having been trough the spill, as well as Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, the members of the coalition understand the importance of the organization in helping rebuild the gulf seafood brand following a crisis,” said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. “As a team our efforts re-establish the gulf seafood brand in the national and international arenas. Working together our impact is faster and greater than working alone.”
Correcting Misperceptions about Gulf Seafood
“Our challenge is to simultaneously correct misperceptions about Gulf seafood, while proactively marketing the broad spectrum of fresh, wild seafood from the Gulf waters,” said McNeely.
She said many people have commented on how easily the Gulf states came together for the greater good of the region. Member states understand that what’s good for the region is good for them directly, she said.
“Each member has more than an obligation to enhance the reputation of the region – they have a passion for Gulf Coast seafood and protecting the reputation that goes along with it,” she said.
“We learned a lot about what other states were doing in starting our own seafood marketing effort,” said Nelson, who also serves as vice chairman on the coalition’s executive committee.Chris Nelson, vice president of Bon Secour Fisheries in Alabama, said the coalition has served as a way for the industry to share information across the Gulf region so states can work together on marketing their seafood. It also allowed his state to learn from the successes and failures of other states in their own marketing efforts.
“It was our desire to work cooperatively with other Gulf states, so that whatever seafood marketing we did complemented rather than conflicted with what other states were doing.”
Promoting Regional Product
Nelson said it makes sense to promote seafood as a regional product rather than as a state one. A Gulf of Mexico brand is much stronger than a state brand for seafood. It also reduces confusion among consumers.
For example, he said, a shrimp could be caught off Louisiana by a boat from Alabama and landed and processed in Texas. That’s fairly common. Consumers don’t care exactly where a shrimp comes from – only that it is a domestic item caught in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I don’t know what a Louisiana or an Alabama shrimp looks like, but I do know what a Gulf of Mexico shrimp looks like,” Nelson said.
Harlon Pearce, owner of Harlon’s LA Fish in Kenner, La., said the coalition is something that has been needed for a long time. Some states have spent a lot of time marketing their seafood, while others may not have had the resources to put toward the effort. The coalition brings more energy to bear on the marketing the region’s seafood by bringing together all of the Gulf states under a united program.
While the Gulf coalition is currently the only regional seafood coalition, Pearce said the industry might eventually see others established to represent the different coastal regions of the United States.
Setting an Example
This coalition is helping set the example for others to follow by bringing together all aspects of the seafood industry, such as retail, chefs, restaurants, tourism, processors, wholesalers and fishermen – to name a few.
“The coalition covers a good cross-section of everyone who touches the product,” said Pearce, who also serves as the seafood market representative on the coalition’s executive committee.
Pearce said the coalition is working with the region’s seafood industry to best position it for growth. The industry needs to figure out a way to move from the commodity market and into a niche market to see stronger demand for products.
To do that, he said, consumers need to be made better aware of the quality of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico so that they will seek it out at stores and restaurants.
“We have to teach the seafood industry that change is necessary and good for growth,” he said.
William S. “Corky” Perret, who represents Mississippi on the coalition’s executive committee, said the coalition is building this demand for Gulf of Mexico seafood by letting people know that Gulf seafood is safe, high quality and good for people to purchase.
Can Compete with Anybody
In part, the coalition does this by providing recipes for people who may not know how to cook seafood and by letting consumers know where they can purchase Gulf seafood.
“Mississippi is a smaller state as compared to Louisiana, Texas and Florida, but while we are a small state, we still have significant seafood production and processing,” he said. “By teaming with the other Gulf states, we can achieve a bigger bang for the buck in spreading the word about Gulf Coast seafood.”
Perret admits the image of the region’s seafood was tarnished in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. While sales of Gulf seafood were down after these events, he said, the promotional work by the coalition has helped increase those sales again.
“We can compete with anybody in the world in the quality of our Gulf Coast seafood,” he said.
It is fresh, healthy, locally produced and excellent quality. Best of all, he said, it is American made and harvested by Americans.