New markets for Maine lobster developing abroad

First published in Landings, January, 2020

China and the EU (European Union) are major foreign markets for the American lobster. The lobster industry now finds itself caught in the middle of a perfect storm with trade tariffs creating barriers to both lucrative export markets.

At Food Export–Northeast, we’ve heard from many in the Maine lobster industry that they are bracing against this headwind and need support to weather the storm. As a leading resource for food producers in New England, we want industry professionals to know that we’re in their corner. We are ramping up efforts in traditional markets, while also developing new overseas markets and opportunities for suppliers to connect with international buyers.

Increased Funds – Uncovering New Opportunities

Food Export–Northeast recently sought out more than $20 million in funding from the federal Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP). With these funds in hand, we are directing a significant portion to new multi-year efforts to open export markets, educate seafood importers, and connect the industry to a broader range of international buyers.

Colleen Coyne is the Seafood Program Coordinator at Food Export-Northeast.

A sizeable portion of the funding has been dedicated to expanding our signature cost-sharing program, the Branded Program, to conduct more foreign promotion activities. All eligible suppliers accepted into the program receive a 50% reimbursement for costs tied to international marketing activities, such as trade show participation, social media and advertising in foreign markets, in-store retail and food service promotions, point-of-sale materials, and freight costs to send samples.

Additionally, this funding allows our organization to spearhead a variety of awareness-building efforts with international buyers. In fact, as mentioned below, trade education events have been taking place worldwide throughout 2019 to educate seafood importers about American lobster, with more planned for 2020.

Dubai Trade Mission and the Maine Lobster Industry

Most recently, the Food Export–Northeast seafood team held its first in-market trade mission in Dubai. During the three-day event, American lobster suppliers and processors from Maine met face-to-face with buyers from several countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.

A highlight of the mission was the product showcase. At that event, Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative Ambassador Harvester Brian Rapp gave a dynamic, interactive presentation — complete with trap, buoy, and gauge — about how the U.S. commercial lobster fishery has been managed sustainably during its 150-year history. The 70 buyers and chefs in attendance also watched a cooking demonstration and sampled dishes featuring American lobster.

Participating seafood suppliers walked away with a better understanding of the market and reported good buyer interest. New relationships were formed with 20 Dubai distributorships and $800,000 in sales were made. Future sales may be potentially $1.8 million annually.

Although it’s too early to predict the long-term sustained sales impact, the event represents a good initial step for expanding this market. There are many opportunities to grow lobster sales in Dubai and the GCC countries. Now that the door has been opened, we will continue to open it wider by adding more promotional and educational events in this market in 2020.

A seafood show in Dubai. MTC photo.

Collaborating to Tell the Story of American Lobster – New Collateral and Video

Telling the story of American lobster through a variety of mediums and resources helps to educate and build awareness with potential buyers. To assist this important storytelling, we’ve created two new resources for our in-market representatives and industry suppliers.

The first is a print brochure called the American Lobster Products Guide. It has been developed to educate buyers about the quality, value, and versatility of American lobster. This resource covers everything potential overseas buyers need to know, from the history of lobstering and sustainable harvesting practices to taste, shell types, and product forms.

With the help of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, we also produced two short videos. The videos showcases the steps U.S. lobster suppliers take to ensure their high-quality products arrive safely overseas and what importers need to do to keep the product at its peak once it arrives and before distribution to their end customers.

These updates represent just a few of our collaborative efforts to open export markets and build new relationships with buyers for the American lobster industry, activities that are at the core of what we do. It’s a collaborative effort and we want Maine’s lobster industry to know they can call on us for support.

Recent Promotional Activities

We recently participated in two separate restaurant weeks in Germany – one in Berlin and one in Hamburg. At the Berlin event, which had a Roaring Twenties theme, 59 restaurants participated. In Hamburg, 11 restaurants were actively engaged in the city’s event, which was brand new and centered around the theme “Shall We Eat Meat?” Between the two events, 30 of the restaurants served American lobster. Both events built off of last year’s U.S. lobster roll promotion in Berlin, and the plan is to use this successful format again in the future.

Vietnam is another export market that Food Export–Northeast is focusing on to build awareness of American lobster. Vietnam is a high seafood consumption country, but demand is outpacing what the country itself can supply, making it a potentially strong market for American lobster. As in other regions, we are creating a country-wide, multi-pronged promotional effort using social media and promotions at the retail store and food-service levels. Just this month we hosted our first food-service event at Golden Gate’s King BBQ in Ho Chi Minh City where chefs crafted dishes featuring American lobster.

Food Export–Northeast is developing further opportunities for lobster exporters to engage with foreign buyers in 2020 and utilize our funding support to enhance their presence in overseas markets. To further assist with foreign buyer relations, we are producing new educational materials and conducting lobster promotions in restaurants and retail stores to generate consumer awareness and demand for American lobster.