Guest Column: Creating demand through chefs and food writers

First published in Landings, November, 2015.

Matt Jacobson is the Executive Director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Photo courtesy of MLMC.
Matt Jacobson is the Executive Director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Photo courtesy of MLMC.

Friday, September 25, 2015, was the first official National Lobster Day. It was a thrill to celebrate lobster and the men and women of the lobster industry with a national and international audience. But even more, National Lobster Day was a huge success for the Maine lobster industry and for Maine.

Through the efforts of Maine Senators Collins and King, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution designating September 25, 2015, as National Lobster Day. This might seem like an inconsequential development, but we at the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative took it very seriously. We contacted publications and journalists, television stations and producers to tell them about the day and share Maine’s amazing lobster story. The holiday was featured in 20 print and online articles and more than 100 broadcasts, reaching 153 million people. For comparison, a 30-second TV ad during “the big football game” reached just 112 million people – and cost $4.5 million. We also built excitement on social media by engaging with fellow lobster fans.

While we did our work, Senator King asked the White House to feature Maine Lobster on the menu at the Sept. 25 State Dinner in honor of Chinese President Xi Jinping. With guest chef Anita Lo, the White House served Maine Lobster, and the menu was highlighted in more than 67 Chinese media articles and reached hundreds of millions of people. Throughout the day, social media exploded with more than 20 million mentions of National Lobster Day.

National Lobster Day was a prime example of our strategy in action: Create demand for Maine Lobster by influencing media and chefs. Our focus is to educate the world about Maine Lobster by sharing our unique story.

We introduce them to Maine New Shell Lobster, a seasonal delicacy only available from Maine between July and November when our lobstermen catch it. We teach people about the fascinating men and women in the industry who dedicate their life’s work to lobstering in the cold, clear and pristine waters of Maine. We explain how our industry has a rich family tradition of fishermen and shore-side partners and the many people’s livelihoods that are supported when they buy Maine Lobster. We talk about sustainability and how Maine Lobster is the original sustainable seafood—our first sustainability laws were passed in 1829, long before they were fashionable.

Ultimately, we’re telling them the story of Maine. And chefs are hearing our story – in fact not only did the President of China enjoy Maine Lobster at the White House, but the Pope was also served Maine Lobster during his recent visit to America! Chef Lidia Bastianich created Heirloom Tomato, Housemade Burrata, Steamed Maine Lobster. You can find the recipe here: www.splendidtable.org/recipes/heirloom-tomato-housemade-burrata-steamed-maine-lobster. It seems that Maine Lobster is something the whole world loves.

Now that our season is winding down, you’ll see our messaging pivot to recipe ideas for Thanksgiving and the holidays. Before long it will be Valentine’s Day and you can be sure we’ll be promoting Maine Lobster for that occasion, and others. This fall, we plan a mini-campaign featuring Maine Lobster Tails for football games. We’ll call it “Tail-gating.” With all of these efforts we intend to keep Maine Lobster at the top of the minds of our target chefs and media during the winter months.

We are also deep in the planning of our activities for next year. You can expect to see the same messaging around the live “Maine New Shell” product and similiar themes focused on the different culinary applications, the great people and place that produces Maine Lobster and our sustainability story. We intend to bring that message and education to more chefs and media located in more U.S. cities.

We learned much in 2015, our first year of operations. We’ve learned that people love our sustainability story—knowing that our lobstermen actually throw back lobsters that are too small, too big or are female and breeding. People are interested in sharing their stories of Maine and Maine Lobster on social media. Chefs across the country now prepare new and unique dishes with Maine New Shell Lobster, using unexpected flavors like wasabi, honey and ginger.

All of these observations lead us to the conclusion that more education of chefs and media will accelerate these trends and ultimately grow the demand for Maine Lobster. The story of Maine works, and we’re going to keep on telling it.

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