Is there a market for premium mussels?
Farming sustainable, premium mussels is proving profitable for start-up Acadia Aqua Farms of Bar Harbor, Maine.
Acadia owners Theo and Fiona DeKoning began marketing their Hollander & DeKoning mussels last May, about a year after parent company, Great Eastern Mussel Farms of Tenants Harbor, Maine, went out of business.
"With the unfortunate demise of Great Eastern, we have had to learn the sales and distribution part of the business," said Fiona DeKoning, Acadia's business manager and co-owner.
And distribution seems to be going well, with high-end wholesalers moving the mussels into high-end restaurants and small retail chains across the country. The company is harvesting between 20,000 and 25,000 pounds of mussels monthly from 160 acres of water-bed leases in Frenchman Bay off Bar Harbor, Maine.
Acadia harvests bottom-culture mussels, as opposed to raft-culture mussels, and the product is also differentiated from other mussels by being processed on the boat, allowing for a fresher product. In addition, the flavor of bottom-culture mussels is stronger, contended DeKoning.
"Mussels on the sea bed tend to have more flavor and a slightly stronger shell. In addition, we are harvesting in a sustainable way, so there is no depletion," she said.
The mussels are priced at the "higher end" of the average range of 85 cents to USD 1.60 per pound wholesale, said DeKoning. Despite the U.S. economy over the past year, customers are interested in premium, sustainable mussels.
"We are getting new customers every month. While we're not as big as Prince Edward Island mussels, we have consistent supply year-round. In addition, we have the potential to farm 10 times as much," said DeKoning.
Despite early success, Acadia plans to grow strategically and steadily. "We are small enough to be flexible … and we know what our niche is. If you grow too fast, you can have problems," said DeKoning.