Guest Column: Marketing flexibility remains fundamental in 2021

The new year is bringing many changes, so the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative is prepared to remain flexible and pivot as needed to take advantage of market conditions. We are starting the year with a continued focus on promoting Maine lobster to home cooks. Our public relations team is working with journalists to place Maine lobster stories in consumer publications so that we have a flow of positive stories throughout the year. We are also planning a digital advertising campaign to educate people about the ease of preparing Maine lobster at home. We will capitalize on holidays to increase awareness of lobster as a desirable, premium and accessible meal solution. We also have influencers — social media users who have built up a reputation for expertise on culinary issues — developing and sharing accessible Maine lobster recipes and tips.

Product Innovation

  • Seafood is the fastest-growing supermarket food category, but most lobster options are limited to the seafood counter with familiar products like live lobster and tails. Value-added products (like burgers, cook-in-a-bag, jerky, and meal kits) are experiencing the biggest growth spurt, with seafood offering more value-added options than any other protein.
  • We want to insert Maine lobster into this value-added pipeline by leveraging current trends that are predicted to continue in the long term. For example, there has been a 40% growth in frozen food purchases since the pandemic began and Maine lobster processors already are using state-of-the-art freezing technology for processed products. Consumers have a desire to create restaurant-quality meals at home and Maine lobster carries a premium reputation. People are also showing a greater interest in food origins and a desire to support local agriculture; the Maine lobster fishery has a great local story in a national marketplace where about 80% of seafood is imported.
  • Our goal is to drive new product innovations featuring Maine lobster. This will give Maine processors and dealers the opportunity to expand their product portfolios and potentially expand the customer base for Maine lobster to food manufacturers.
  • To start the process of developing new lobster products, we will review new trends in restaurant menus and flavor profiles and among home cooks. We will also review products that have already been created by Maine processors to avoid duplication of effort. We will work with a culinary firm to develop market-ready prototypes that are on-trend to inspire production with retailers and food manufacturers, using underutilized parts of the lobster like mince. Once we have the prototypes in place, the Collaborative will launch an advertising campaign that showcases the new products and promotes the versatility of lobster to the target audience.
  • We will also make it easy for customers to source Maine lobster for new product development through our dealer database. The Collaborative will work with processors and dealers, supermarket chains and food manufacturers throughout the process.

Issues Management

  • Issues such as new right whale regulations and offshore wind energy projects are on the minds of many involved in the fishery. While industry organizations focus on the regulatory impacts of these issues, the Collaborative works on protecting the reputation of Maine lobster among buyers and consumers.
  • Our priority is ensuring that customers have confidence in purchasing Maine lobster. One way we do that is by surveying people to determine customer sentiment. This helps guide our communications strategy. For example, we learned that most consumers are unaware of any connection between right whales and the lobster fishery, and purchases weren’t impacted even among those who were aware. With this information we developed fact sheets and social media content, such as videos and graphics, that we distributed to a targeted audience. We continue to monitor customer sentiment and have developed more communications materials that we can release if media coverage warrants it.
  • The Collaborative is able to provide media training and message development on many issues for industry spokesmen, as well as media outreach and promotional pieces that share the industry’s perspective.

Supply Chain Marketing

  • We are continuing to educate wholesale customers about Maine lobster with tactics including public relations outreach, webinars, social media and advertising. We are ready to exhibit at the Seafood Expo in Boston if it takes place in July as scheduled. We also have projects planned to add value to the Collaborative’s marketing activities as well as those of individuals and companies marketing Maine lobster. These include an advisory council report that will provide information on food service and retail industry trends as well as a research initiative designed to provide information on consumers most likely to eat more lobster.

For any questions or concerns about the marketing program, contact me at the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative at 207-541-9310 or mlacroix@lobsterfrommaine.com

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