Wild Grill Foods builds consumption with "fish in a familiar form" strategy
Patrick Sullivan is the founder of Wild Grill Foods, a maker of value-added seafood products, with its plant in Redmond, Washington, U.S.A. Gary Gottfried is national director of foodservice sales for the company, which specializes in salmon burgers and sausages. Both spoke with SeafoodSource about Wild Grill's accomplishments to-date and goals moving forward.
SeafoodSource: How did Wild Grill Foods came about and how it has grown since its inception.
Sullivan: Wild Grill Foods was founded by myself, my wife Dagmar Sullivan, and close friend David Boyd in July 2010. My experience in the seafood industry dates back to 1997 with Omega Foods and provides a basis for understanding the special production side of the Wild Grill business. Dick Jones, a personal friend of ours, has helped with introductions to a wide range of companies in retail and foodservice. With 20 years in the seafood industry, having worked for Whole Foods, HEB, and Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, and Ocean Outcomes, Dick is a great source of fish supply [knowledge].
When Wild Grill Foods’ was formed in 2010, we aimed to produce healthy seafood products. Our seafood products offer sustainable resources, positioned to give consumers healthy, natural protein in familiar forms, such as burgers and sausages. We have seen the development of consumer interest continue to grow and we are thrilled Wild Grill natural salmon and seafood products remain consistent with the demand for healthier lifestyles.
We capitalized on recognizing this knowledge by introducing, for the first time in the United States, a “seafood sausage” featuring a natural seaweed casing. We have other new products that we are introducing (for instance, in the appetizer category) and would like to become known for being the “seafood innovation” company of the industry.
We want this philosophy to prove to be especially attractive to retailers who cannot find enough good, reliable products to meet the demands of their customers. The Wild Grill Foods’ approach is to grow the brand into a leader in the health food segment of the industry, supported with eye-catching packaging, advertising, demonstrations, and the highest-quality products.
SeafoodSource: You recently attended the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. How does a show like that impact your business?
Gottfried: We exhibited and found it to be an extremely favorable opportunity to impact our business from multiple vantage points. Because this show tends to showcase the newest and most innovative products in the food industry and caters to the entire specialty food community, everyone that you would want to meet is there. [We gained] exposure to potential key distribution companies, retail and foodservice operators to the consumer, representation organizations, and media. From product sampling and the feedback of all groups, we were able to reinforce our “proof of concept” on a variety of new and existing products and gain favorable insight as to what product information and messaging resonated with those we talked to. Being a member and participating in the Specialty Food Association has also helped establish valuable connections and referrals that can help us get to market faster.
SeafoodSource: What is the biggest challenge your business faces these days?
Gottfried: Retaining focus and establishing consistency in the development of our Wild Grill branded business. We do some co-packing as it helps augment our production and business; however, we need to be selective in those we work with and what products we work on. We believe in the high quality and on-trend value of the products we produce and that was strongly reinforced from the response we got at the Fancy Food Show. We tend to believe we can and should be everywhere; however, as with any relatively early-stage business category, we cannot chase everything.
SeafoodSource: Your company offers both foodservice and retail products. Where are you seeing the most traction and why?
Gottfried: We see tremendous opportunity with both; however, we see more traction forming in our foodservice products for several reasons. Being an innovative seafood company is a double-edged sword. Innovation implies and means new, different, and even special, which is exciting and what people are looking for. However, it also often means unknown, untried, unfamiliar. Today’s chef and foodie world has opened the door to take advantage of innovation by offering and presenting products to consumers and, in their own way, introduce the product segments and categories to consumers. This creates sampling opportunities that people buy at the cost of a single meal. They like it, and then they want to learn where to buy it to take home. Another unique Wild Grill Foods additional benefit to our foodservice items is that we are case-ready-for-sale at the fresh seafood counter. This affords retail sales in a more cost-effective format in a store environment where a store employee can make suggestions and answer questions on any of our products. We view this as category-creation for the long term.
SeafoodSource: What has been your greatest business accomplishment to date?
Sullivan: Helping pioneer a newer business segment (with a precursor business to Wild Grill Foods, we were the first company selling salmon burgers to Costco) and continuing with the introduction of a newer product category, like our salmon sausage line with a special seaweed casing.
SeafoodSource: What haven't you done yet with your business that you'd still like to do?
Sullivan: Get the business to a steady point where we can build on a foundation and truly help expand the seafood consumption in the U.S. while continuing to be creating innovative and widely accepted (and enjoyed) seafood. Our “fish in a familiar form” helps make it easy for U.S. consumers to enjoy and appreciate the benefits of seafood from a health, nutrition and better-for-you aspect, however, for that to happen, they need to know that we are here.
SeafoodSource: What issues related to the seafood industry are you watching most closely these days?
Sullivan: Certainly, sustainability and all factors relating to certified sourcing, but we also are concerned about the image of the industry to be devoid of mislabeling, misrepresentation, or straight-out fraud. The integrity of the industry is very important to us: because one company misrepresents itself, it makes it that we all have to defend ourselves.
Photo courtesy of Wild Grill Foods