$2.5 Million Investment To Grow Seafood E-Commerce

In October, Luke’s Lobster and the Island Institute, a non-profit organization based in Rockland, received a $2.5 million grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation of California to build new markets for Maine’s seafood while the world grapples with the COVID pandemic. The money comes from a donor-advised fund within the Foundation; the Foundation’s goal is to advance innovative philanthropic solutions to challenging problems.

The collaboration between Luke’s Lobster and the Island Institute will build resilience in the seafood supply chain and provide opportunities for Maine’s fishermen and aquaculturists, according to an October press release.

Telling the story of all of Maine’s seafood products will be an important part of the marketing effort. MLA photo.

“It took a while to put this partnership together,” explained Rob Snyder, president of the Island Institute. “We [Snyder and Luke Holden, founder of Luke’s Lobster] started talking about it when COVID hit. We anticipated a much worse summer for fishermen and we were scrambling to figure out what to do.”

According to Snyder, $1 million of the grant will take the form of a forgivable loan from the Island Institute to Luke’s Lobster. That loan will be used to amplify the company’s existing e-commerce platform.
When the COVID pandemic took hold this spring, Luke’s Lobster closed nearly all of its national and international lobster shacks. It then launched its e-commerce seafood platform several months earlier than planned. Initially the company offered its existing seafood items, but quickly added seasonal seafood products such as Gulf of Maine dayboat scallops and fresh halibut.

“The loan will be forgiven when the company hits a specific metric,” Snyder said. “That is the ability of Luke’s to recruit seafood companies to its platform and support creation of B corporations.” Certified B corporations are businesses that balance profit with social impacts. They are legally required to consider the effect of their business decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Luke’s Lobster is a certified B corporation, as are larger companies such as Cabot Creamery, Ben & Jerry’s, and Stonyfield Organic.

The remaining funds will be used to develop content and marketing strategies for Luke’s e-commerce site. “It’s super expensive,” Snyder said. “This is what it costs to do it well. And think about what it would cost for all Maine seafood. It’s really a daunting task.”

Americans on average ate 16.1 pounds of seafood in 2018, according to the most recent Fisheries of the United States report, the highest amount since 2007.

Fresh and frozen finfish accounted for 6.3 pounds per capita, fresh and frozen shellfish totaled 6.0 pounds. Much of that shellfish came in the form of shrimp (4.0 pounds). Average seafood consumption is still considerably lower than the two four-ounce servings of seafood each week suggested in the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In addition, much of seafood that is consumed, between 85% and 95%, is imported.

“It’s an age-old problem: how to get people to eat more seafood,” Snyder said. Getting on-line customers to click a button and buy seafood from Maine will require content which educates them on all aspects of the seafood and how to prepare it. “A considerable focus of this partnership will be to create digital content aimed at educating consumers about the ease and health benefits of preparing seafood at home, as well as telling stories of Maine’s fishermen, aquaculturists, and coastal communities. The content production and educational campaign will help ensure Maine’s premium seafood stays top of mind with consumers looking for a sustainable, traceable, and healthy protein,” according to Luke Lobster’s web site.
Such promotion will have the benefit of starting with a strong brand identity. “People identify seafood with place,” Snyder said. “Maine has a strong reputation for an extraordinarily pure environment.”

Maine seafood producers, harvesters, and fishermen will be able to offer their products through Luke’s Lobster’s website. Applicants will be evaluated through a review by a selection committee, which is made up of two members from Luke’s Lobster, two members from the Island Institute, and a member from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

The funding also requires Luke’s Lobster and the Island Institute to provide technical assistance on clean energy and water quality improvements to fishing wharves and B corporation training for businesses interested in certification. The project will also evaluate methods to decarbonize the seafood supply chain.

“We will be working with Luke’s Lobster to see which uses in the supply chain produce the most carbon, things like trucking, refrigeration, activities on the wharf,” Snyder said. “This assessment is in part because Luke’s Lobster is interested in the issue but also to understand it as a case study. The goal is to help incentivize businesses to decrease their climate impacts.”
Snyder noted that the Island Institute has worked with Luke’s Lobster in various ways over the years. “The company is transparent and committed to social and environmental outcomes and was an obvious choice for us,” he said. “This will allow other seafood suppliers to get onto the platform. As a way to keep lobster and other Maine seafood flowing, it will be very valuable.”

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