MSC growth allows for push toward niche expo opportunities

The certification body has begun shifting its face-to-face efforts in a new direction
Marine Stewardship Council Senior Marketing Manager Kristen Stevens
Marine Stewardship Council Senior Marketing Manager Kristen Stevens | Photo courtesy of Kristen Stevens/LinkedIn
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The number of products appearing on global shelves with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue label has grown by about 25 percent over the past five years, totaling an estimated 20,000 products – compared to around 15,000 half a decade ago.

That growth has played out on an even greater scale in the U.S., with products bearing the logo nearly doubling over the same time frame – from around 700 products to nearly 1,300 now.

MSC Senior Marketing Manager Kristen Stevens said she believes much of this growth is naturally due to shifting consumption tendencies toward sustainable products, but she also said attending trade shows is still pivotal to the brand’s growth.

“Our team is growing, so on the market development side, we have more people on the ground able to be listening, networking, and speaking at shows,” Stevens said.

Large seafood shows continue to be a heavy focus for MSC, but thanks to the brand's growth and its subsequent ability to grow its team it has started to pursue more niche opportunities That in turn has allowed the MSC to meet face to face with potential partners and existing clients with whom they previously had little direct interaction.

“Besides Seafood Expo North America, which is the big one, we are realizing there are a lot of other expos out there where people are really hungry for information about eco-labels and options for partnership within the sustainability sphere,” Stevens said.

One of those opportunities came recently at the Winter Fancy Food Show, which took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A. from 19 to 21 January. The specialty food show takes place biannually and, this year, presented the MSC – as well as other certification brands – with a unique opportunity to craft its message toward companies that target more sustainability-focused consumers.

“This year was a first for us attending the Fancy Food Show. We looked closely at many of the brands that have attended the show in the past that target an eco-conscious shopper, which would make them a really great potential MSC partner,” Stevens said. “Also, we have some existing partners that attended, so it was a good opportunity to network with our partners in addition to our prospect pool.”

Speaking at a Fancy Food Show panel titled “How Third-Party Certifications Communicate Credibility and Drive Sustainable Growth,” Stevens, along with campaign partners from Fairtrade America and the Non-GMO Project, spoke to an audience comprising companies from across the food industry, requiring her to broaden her message compared to seafood-specific events MSC has attended in the past.

“I started the presentation by broadly talking about the impact of the ocean, [highlighting] what the ocean means for the growing planet and how much we rely on it without even realizing it,” Stevens said. “We know there is a unifying desire for healthy proteins and healthy food generally, and we also know there is an association between healthy food and sustainability. Oftentimes, we lead with that as a primary motivator.”

Through storytelling at these expos, Stevens is able to ensure that the MSC’s message – focused on making the global significance and benefits of sustainable seafood digestible for a wide audience – is portrayed effectively. Coming from a background in photography, Stevens said she finds that the storytelling necessary to shooting high-quality pictures lends itself to marketing seafood.

“I collaborated with local organic farms [as a photographer], working to get their stories as small businesses that were doing the right thing out to consumers,” Stevens said. “Visual storytelling is now a huge piece of the work we are doing at the MSC in tandem with figuring out how to simplify our message. MSC is so supportive of research that allows us to know specifically how our message is going to resonate.”

MSC is planning to make even more expo appearances in the future, and Stevens said 2024 has more trade shows, webinars, and events that MSC itself is putting on to come.

“It’s all about where we are able to secure more meaningful placement … it needs to be impactful,” Stevens said. “We are really conscious of making sure we are using our time really thoughtfully.”

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