guest column: Multiple lobster marketing efforts underway in Canada

First published in Landings, May, 2017

In this era of “branding” virtually everything, the Canadian lobster sector has at its disposal a wide array of branding options that exporters and marketers can tailor to individual customers and markets.

Geoff Irvine is the executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada. He is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In 2010, the Lobster Council of Canada commissioned a comprehensive study, “The Long-Term Value Strategy for Canadian Lobster,” that we thought would culminate in a marketing plan for Canadian lobster. What we learned was that before we could effectively implement a marketing strategy there were significant steps to take to improve the “marketability” of Canadian lobster. Measures were taken to improve handling and quality, from the boats to the plants, and our understanding of how prices were set for harvesters and in the market, and finally, to develop a brand for Canadian lobster.

During the intervening years and based on consumer demand, boardroom pressures, politics and the perceived need to differentiate lobster almost to the individual port, we have seen the development of a dizzying array of “brands” involving country or province of origin, linkage to harvester groups, sustainability, food safety, traceability, and soon, social license.

Year after year, Canada is recognized as having one of the top “country” brands in the world. In the most recent rankings we finished second to Switzerland, with a worldwide reputation for strength in categories like respect for our environment, business trustworthiness and regulatory structure. Armed with this powerful opportunity, the federal government has developed a Canada Brand program for the agri-food sector that provides a suite of tools including graphic images, photographs and language to help marketers tell the story of Canadian fish and seafood. It focuses on our reputation for cold, clean oceans and safe and reliable products.

 

The Canadian Lobster Brand Program provides a clear set of core values focused solely on lobster and is based on attributes of place (the environment, the people and tradition), product (high quality, wide variety, live and processed) and process (sustainability, traceability, food safety). A clean new graphic image can be used by exporters to show their customers that the lobster in the box, whether processed or live, fulfills the brand promise of “the world’s highest quality and most flavourful live and processed lobster.”

Provinces and lobstermen’s organizations have developed new seafood brands. Nova Scotia is focused on the pure ocean providing high quality fish and seafood. Quebec’s agri-food branding program, “Aliments du Quebec,” focuses on 22,000 certified products from 1,200 firms. The Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association “Master Lobster” brand is based on fair trade; the Newfoundland and Labrador Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ brand is focused on traceability. Harvesters from Forchu, Cape Breton, have developed a brand in collaboration with their major customer in New York City that highlights the pristine waters and individual owner/operators who catch the product.

In response to consumer and boardroom demand, a wide variety of branding opportunities have focused on sustainability, food safety and traceability. With 98 % of Canadian lobster in the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability program, Canadian exporters actively promote the positive images of eco-certification. Many processing plants have third party food safety certification through the British Retail Consortium (BRC), covering 17,000 plants in 90 countries. Both of these programs demand complete traceability of raw materials and final product, from the harvesters to the consumer.

Most companies spend every hour of every day carefully cultivating and developing their own corporate brand. Recent examples from the airline and soft-drink sectors show us how this can be done effectively or very poorly. Many lobster exporters and marketers have developed well-known industry and consumer brands and they use them to their advantage in key markets.

If you put these programs all together it is clear that Canadian lobster marketers have a wide array of branding options at their disposal. They can customize language to specific geographic markets (Chicago or Shanghai), to trade audiences (chefs and chain/retail buyers) or consumers (e-commerce in Asia, consumers in Belgium or Vancouver). They can point to the place where Canadian lobster is harvested, the people who make it happen, the rich history, sustainability, food safety and the fact that we produce hundreds of high quality lobster products.

When we embarked on the process to define the core values of the Canadian lobster brand one of the first things I learned was that brands do not live and die on what you say, they thrive and endure based on what you do. It is our goal in Canada to continue to build on this work to ensure that we deliver our customers the world’s highest-quality and most flavorful live and processed lobster, every single day.