USP essential to raise the bar in salmon marketing
In the developed world, salmon is now available on every fishmonger’s counter, in every retailer, and on every menu. It has grown from an expensive treat to an everyday commodity, and world production is touching 100 million metric tons.
With commodity status comes commodity prices, and intense competition to develop long-term, supply relationships, thereby avoiding a boom and bust cycle. However, large-scale buyers are known for being capricious, switching often between suppliers, which can leave farmers competing on the spot market to sell fish.
To avoid this scenario, the challenge for fish farmers is to find a USP to lift their salmon above the ordinary and turn it into a sought after named brand, rather than a commodity. One independent Scottish company, Loch Duart, has become a master at this and has reaped the rewards.
According to Sales Director Andy Bing, provenance is becoming increasingly important, and Scottish salmon has a brilliant reputation around the world as a high quality product.
“Scottish food is massively respected in export markets but we realised early on that just selling our fish as Scottish, would not give it the marketing advantage we needed. Being independent gave us the freedom to farm salmon as we dreamed it might be farmed, but our costs of production will always be higher, because we favour a low stocking density, a sustainable fishmeal/oil based feed and high husbandry approach,” he explained.
“Right from the start in 1999, when business partner Nick Joy and I bought the farm from our old employers and Alan Balfour and Charles Marsham joined us as founding directors, we knew that we had great sites, great fish, and a great opportunity to explain to people how they were raised.”
“We were firmly fixed on environmental stewardship and one of the first to use long fallowing periods on our sites to ensure that the seabed had a chance to recover between production cycles. We told customers that our fish were grown under optimum conditions in pristine water, and this resonated with them,” said Bing.
A major benefit for Loch Duart was in pioneering RSPCA Freedom Food standards for farmed salmon. This was an important cause for Nick Joy, who wanted to raise the overall standard of production, and more than 70% of Scottish salmon now bear the RSPCA logo. Nick subsequently won an RSPCA award for outstanding contribution to animal welfare; something about which he is very proud.
In 2006 Loch Duart notched up another first, when the company became the first salmon farm to be able to specify where all its feed came from.
“Previously our fishmeal and oil came in mixed lots, but we found a supplier who could guarantee the species and catch area, traced back to source. Our customers appreciated knowing that we cared about sustainability when it was just starting to become fashionable, and it improved our reputation as a knowledgeable supplier,” said Bing.
“I firmly believe that because fish is a natural diet for salmon, it is a correct choice to include fish meal in their diet, but I also believe that it is beholden on us to make sure it comes from sustainable sources,” he said.
“Marketing is Andy Bing’s forté and Nick Joy, who retired from working full time at the company this summer, was recently appointed as Brand Director, to help develop brand recognition.
“The way people are purchasing food in both retail and restaurants is fast changing and is now aligned to social media and smart phone use,” said Bing. “We know from research that people Google menu items before ordering, so earlier this year we made our website smart phone friendly. Before diners order Loch Duart salmon in a restaurant, they can watch a short film about how the salmon is reared, which reassures them that their meal is an ethical as well as a healthy choice.”
“We are predominantly a B2B seller, and develop good working relationships with wholesalers and chefs, particularly in areas where consumers spend more per capita on seafood than others, such as France, Switzerland, Italy and the USA. And because of the itinerant nature of chefs, who move up the ladder and around the world, we have seen salmon sales develop in many new areas, including the super yacht sector, which is interesting,” said Bing.
He believes that taste keeps his salmon on the best menus, but good taste is not an accident; rather it is the product of Loch Duart’s emphasis on slow production methods in one of the most remote corners of Europe.
His customers love to visit, and as Bing explained, there is an awful lot to tell them. “We nurture our salmon for the best part of 3 years – the public tend to forget that this is a long life for a farmed animal - so there is a fascinating and complex story to relate,” he said.
The company’s most recent venture is into direct selling, offering frozen packs couriered to the consumer, and although it is being slow to develop, Bing has plans to grow the concept.
“In this business, you can never stand still. Aquaculture is a young, exciting industry and the pressure to innovate is huge. Developing aquaculture positively is what our customers insist on. Interestingly it is what has drawn many of our staff to work for us, so this pressure is both internal and external,” he said.