A labor of love: How Martha Stewart and True North created their new seafood product line
It was like the first day of school when Martha Stewart's culinary director, Thomas Joseph, arrived at the 2019 Seafood Expo North America event in Boston, Massachusetts on its opening day.
Joseph, who is a 2017 James Beard Award winner, pulled up to the continent’s largest seafood trade event with the four initial offerings under the Martha Stewart brand’s latest seafood product line in tow, ready for their debut. The products were created in partnership with Cooke Inc.'s True North Seafood.
“We’re super-excited,” Joseph told SeafoodSource on Sunday, 17 March, as SENA19 roared to life. “Today was like the first day of school coming here, like I’m dropping my kids off."
If you ask Joseph and Cooke Vice President of Public Relations Joel Richardson, the kids will be more than all right. Each a “labor of love,” the product line’s first outing includes Atlantic Salmon with Lemon Herb Butter; Sockeye Salmon with Miso Butter; Wild Alaska Pollock with Southwest Spice Blend; and a Seafood Medley (Wild Alaska Pollock, Atlantic Salmon, and Bay Scallops) with Herb Spice Blend. The line is expected to hit grocery store shelves in the United States in May 2019.
The seafood featured in the line has a vibrant heritage of sources ranging from Atlantic salmon farmed in the Gulf of Maine to wild sockeye salmon and pollock sourced from Alaska, and Patagonian bay scallops. The products are also accompanied by Martha Stewart signature butters and/or spice blends, with suggested recipes chosen from the 25,000 in the MarthaStewart.com archive on the underside of each package’s belly band.
“The way that we develop product is we really count on our recipe database – we have 25,000 recipes, so what we love to do is take some of the most popular recipes, some of the beloved recipes that we have and that our editors love, and we like to bring them to life with products,” Joseph said.
In addition to recipe compatibility, the Martha Stewart brand considers four major attributes when establishing new products, Joseph said.
“We are very specific,” he said. “Products need to be simple, natural, delicious – of course – and also convenient. So, whenever we are creating food product, whether it’s with our friends here at True North, or it’s for some of the food products we have on QVC, or our meal-kit delivery service, we are always looking for our food products to achieve all of those fours things. Convenience being a big one for us.”
“Everybody wants to be able to say…'I could do that, I could really achieve that!’ It is a huge focus for us, and it’s part of the reason why we’re partnering with a lot of really fantastic vendors – to bring our recipes to life in a very convenient sort of way,” Joseph, who hosts the webcast Kitchen Conundrums with Thomas Joseph, added.
Serendipity had a part to play in True North’s introduction to Martha Stewart and her brand, Joseph recalled. While on her boat in the Gulf of Maine a few years back, she stumbled across the company’s aquaculture farms near her Skylands home, and curiosity took hold.
“This for us was an organic partnership,” Joseph said. “Martha actually found the fish farms out in the Gulf of Maine, in her boat. And she’s such a curious individual – she’s always curious and she always wants to learn something new – so she went back like a week or days later, and took a fantastic tour around and got to learn about the sustainable farming of the Atlantic salmon. That’s what really intrigued her and then she started using their fish in day-to-day life and when she was entertaining, and from there, that’s how we created a partnership with True North.”
True North’s story had a strong appeal for Stewart and her team, as did the firm’s willingness to share its processes. The company’s dedication to sustainability, a core principle for Stewart and her food businesses, also proved potent, noted Joseph.
“As a brand and as a magazine, we always are looking to feature purveyors or brands that have really great-quality product and they have a great story that goes along with it,” he said. “We want to know about the farms, and what they’re doing, and what’s so special about them, and I think that’s what True North has.”
“Sustainable practices, whether in seafood and fish or in dairy and meats, it’s really important to us,” he added. “To know where our food is coming from, what type of practices are in place for all of these ingredients – it’s core to us and our brand.”
For Cooke and True North, the family-focused heart of the Martha Stewart brand resonated, according to Richardson.
“From kind of an organic perspective, as a family-owned company – we’re an independent, family-owned seafood company – [Cooke Inc. CEO] Glenn [Cooke] and the Cooke family believe very strongly in family and I think that’s a connection between Martha and her similar strong desire to provide delicious meals for families. She is a big believer in families,” he said. “There’s that kind of connection as well that works to strengthen the partnership, and that’s something unique for Cooke as now the world’s largest independent family-owned company, which is a big part of who we are and why we want to provide good quality, sustainable product.”
Learning opportunities have been a perk of the partnership for the Martha Stewart team. When collaborating on the types of seafood to incorporate into the product line, True North suggested several sustainable species that could potentially pair well with a number of Martha’s Test Kitchen recipes that may have been overlooked otherwise.
“There was a lot of newness coming in from this team, telling us, ‘OK, we have a lot of great access to this type of fish and it’s actually really great in this application’ – that’s another way that our partnership has been working really well and part of the reason why we love working with True North,” Joseph said.
“The pollock…that’s not necessarily new to us as a fish species, but it’s new to us as a main ingredient for recipes,” he added. “A lot of the recipes on MarthaStewart.com in the fish and shellfish category focus in on salmon, so the Alaskan pollock was interesting to us because it wasn’t something we had a lot of experience with, but after talking about it [with True North] and understanding the harvesting practices, and seeing how great it is as a vessel for something like a spice blend – it’s a canvas for so many really great, bold flavors to complement its mild, but flaky texture – that was something really exciting for us as well.”
It is the hope of the Martha Stewart team that the new product line will encourage people to eat seafood, no matter their culinary skill-level or familiarity with the protein category.
“We want to make sure that everybody’s comfortable cooking seafood and that if they’re a little nervous about it, there’s help and tips and tricks here, in addition to what we offer online, too, on our platform,” Joseph said.
True North Seafood partnered with Sequential Brands Group, Inc., which markets a portfolio of brands including the Martha Stewart brand, to develop the new refrigerated seafood line in February. True North parent company Cooke was listed by SeafoodSource as one of the top 25 North American seafood suppliers for 2018, based on 2017 sales figures.