Shaking the stigma of frozen seafood

In the seafood universe, “fresh” is a powerful adjective. Chefs and retailers are willing to pay a premium for fresh fish. So are consumers, who associate “fresh” with quality and superiority. To seafood professionals, however, “fresh” simply signifies “not frozen.”

Frozen fish, on the other hand, can be a tougher sell. There’s a stigma attached to frozen seafood, resulting from years of neglect at the production level and a lack of education at the consumer level.

Reversing the misperception that frozen seafood is inferior to fresh is a tall order. But there’s a revolution of sorts under way. It seems a growing number of seafood companies are realizing the attributes of frozen seafood, taking greater care in handling and storing it and ensuring it’s thawed properly. An increasingly number of restaurateurs and retailers are seemingly on board, too.

Triad Fisheries Ltd., which markets Bruce Gore Salmon, is one such company. Mark Tupper, president of the Bothell, Wash., company, says he still meets resistance from chefs and retailers, who insist that fresh is the only way to go, despite the care put into harvesting, freezing and shipping the troll-caught salmon from Southeast Alaska. With the help of New York marketing firm Trent & Co., Triad Fisheries is trying to debunk the misperception that fresh seafood is superior to frozen via the company’s new Frozen is Fresher than Fresh campaign.

Is it working? Are chefs, retailers and even consumers coming around to frozen seafood? I’ll let Tupper speak for himself.

Here’s part two of a two-part interview I conducted with Tupper last week. Part one ran on Monday.

Hedlund: Where does the misperception that frozen seafood is inferior to fresh originate?
Tupper: [Years ago] if you went to your [grocery store’s] freezer section you’d find [coldwater] shrimp in a bag that was completely dehydrated and freezer-burned. Back in the early ‘80s when I used to be in the custom-processing business in Seattle, people would send you fresh fish that was getting old, and that’s what you’d freeze. And so there was a perception in the market that frozen was the worst possible thing in the world. You were getting fish that was at life’s end. Or you were getting fish that wasn’t taken care of properly in grocery store coffin freezers that had gone through umpteen defrost cycles and turned into garbage.

How fresh is fresh? Fresh is actually taking a fish, cleaning it completely, freezing it to minus-30 degrees F, and when you thaw it you have to let it go through rigor mortis by thawing it slowly.

Do a lot of chefs still refuse to work with frozen seafood?
Every day we run into that. Some chefs understand, some chefs don’t. Generally, if we walk into a restaurant or send a chef a fish and explain how to thaw it and cook it, people are really, really excited about it and you can get a new customer. But it takes education.

Will consumers ever shake the misperception that frozen seafood is inferior?
It’s an old dog-new tricks type of a thing. Consumers buy [frozen seafood], take it home, thaw it and it’s all freezer-burned. They have this awful experience and they don’t go back. It’s taking a long time. But what I find is when we sell a retailer a frozen fish and he thaws it and fillets it, consumers are getting a fish that they think is fresh. And it is fresh. It’s the freshest frozen fish you can get. Consumers are turning the tide. Things are getting better.

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