Taylor Shellfish recovery fueled by Asian markets, online sales

Published on
January 13, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic nearly folded Taylor Shellfish, one of the largest producers of farmed shellfish in the country.

Last March, as the virus began spreading across the United States, foodservice shutdowns and plummeting exports had Taylor on the ropes. Sales plummeted to around one-quarter of normal and over two-thirds of the 700 employees working for the Shelton, Washington, U.S.A.-based company were either laid off or placed on standby.

But in recent months, Taylor’s fortunes have drastically improved.

“Our low point was March, and thankfully things have gradually crept back since then,” Taylor’s Bill Dewey told SeafoodSource.

Dewey, Taylor’s head of public relations, said the company’s Q4 earnings were just three percent off 2019’s number during the same period, with a strong recovery fueled largely on the strength of resurrected markets in Asia.

“The export markets in China – and Hong Kong as well – have recovered nicely, and we’re very thankful that we have those markets. They have been instrumental to our bounceback,” Dewey told SeafoodSource.

Dewey did not have the latest figures on employment, but said Taylor was already over 500 employees in September, on the heels of a summer that saw total production and sales bounce back to around 70 to 80 percent of normal business.

Soon after the pandemic struck the U.S., Taylor made a quick decision to strip down to a barebones operation. Top executives, many of them in the Taylor family, began working without pay for the company, which has an annual average revenue around USD 60 million (EUR 49.4 million).

The first round of government aid, provided through the Paycheck Protection Program, commonly referred to as PPP, helped the company pull through the lean, early days of the pandemic, Dewey said.

“The PPP loans were fundamental to the fact that we’re still here, frankly. I don’t know if we would have made it without them,” Dewey said. “In the long-term, [the loans] will keep this from being a multiple-year disaster because they allowed us to get our crops planted."

Taylor’s turnaround should not necessarily be taken as a sign that the shellfish industry at large has made a comeback, Dewey cautioned. He said Asian exports made up 40 percent of Taylor’s pre-COVID business, a share in the sector that many other companies do not have.

“I’m afraid a lot of others in the industry who don’t have those strong export markets aren’t experiencing the magnitude of recovery that we are,” Dewey said.

E-commerce has been another key component to Taylor’s resurgence. Last month, online sales hit USD 580,000 (EUR 477,000), five times greater than sales in December 2019.

“Our online sales are up dramatically. We’d been actively promoting our online sales for a couple years and it really took off with the pandemic,” Dewey said.

This again might favor Taylor more than some other companies, Dewey said, since the company had been working on promoting its e-commerce sales previous to the pandemic.

“Fortunately for us, we didn’t have to stand up a whole new program like so many have. That’s been a real challenge for a lot of companies,” he said. 

Dewey said that, like many seafood companies, Taylor has joined in the push to make people feel more comfortable preparing shellfish at home, with recipe and cooking technique campaigns disseminated through email and social media.

The shift from restaurant markets to home cooking has bumped up demand for large oysters that lend to easy barbecuing, grilling, or baking, and sustained the strong demand for shucked meat oysters.

“The demand for large oysters has overrun our supply … and the shucked meat sales are right on par with what they’ve been traditionally,” Dewey said.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Shellfish

Contributing Editor reporting from Seattle, USA

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