Bristol Bay sockeye campaign moves into Hy-Vee, QFC, and Pavilions

Published on
February 22, 2019

The Bristol Bay Regional Development Association (BBRSDA) is expanding a marketing campaign it believes will make Bristol Bay sockeye salmon a nationally recognized brand.

In 2016, the association launched a pilot marketing program in nine grocery stores in Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A.. The association put its new eye-catching, salmon-hued logo on aprons, printed fish wrap, and stickers, and handed out recipe cards and branded mugs while their representatives touted wild-caught sockeye from the pristine water of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Point-of-sale promotions were bolstered by a social media push, which included vivid photographs of Bristol Bay and interviews with the men and women who fish there. 

Fast forward two years, and that same program that started in a handful of stores in Boulder has expanded to more than 1,000 across the country, forming partnerships with major chains like Hy-Vee, QFC, and Pavilions. 

According to BBRSDA executive director Andy Wink, the campaign – designed to target millennial and affluent Baby Boomers – has flourished in part because it has been carried out in conjunction with improved fish handling resulting in higher-quality fillets.

“Our board had the foresight to begin the branding pilot project in 2016, but for years before that the BBRSDA had been working with the fleet and processors in the region, investing in projects like ice barges and refrigeration units to improve quality in the bay. What started as a focus on chilling at the point of harvest has grown into fostering a positive culture of quality and handling in Bristol Bay that is still ongoing today, and we think it’s having an impact,” Wink said. 

The marketing and quality push has also coincided with a string of historic runs in Bristol Bay, where fishermen have caught more than 200 million pounds of sockeye in three consecutive seasons starting in 2016. Even at these high volumes, the inventory has been moving through freezers quickly while prices have ticked up, an indicator that consumers are willing to pay more for a product they trust.

“We hope people will develop a good relationship with the name, and these kinds of things take time and cost money. I think it’s a really good investment and the hope is that we’re building a really resilient base of customers for the future,” said Wink, who points to fact that prices have managed to stay robust for what can be a notoriously volatile fishery. 

Last season’s harvest of 51.3 million fish was a record for the fishery. If the 2019 forecast of just over 26 million holds, it would represent far fewer fish on the market, but Wink thinks there will be plenty of fish to supply the market and keep solidifying the brand. In fact, BBRSDA is looking to grow the program by partnering with new stores and bringing in more restaurants, chefs, and food service outlets. There will also have new profiles from the fleet that they hope to feature at stores where fishermen live in the offseason; new recipe cards will feature recipes developed on boats. In some places, fishermen will make in-store appearances during promotions. 

The reception on the retail end has been positive. Mark Angulo, who manages meat and seafood sales for Pavilions, was among those who embraced the program. 

"I am extremely pleased with the Alaska/Bristol Bay promotion results,” Angulo said. “Adding store excitement while educating consumers is a win-win situation. We received support in preparing and executing associate training, point-of-sale materials and consumer handouts. We could not ask for a better partnership.”

To celebrate National Seafood Month, which is in October, Pavilions also participated in a joint promotion with BBRSDA and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) that designates an entire section of the seafood case to products from Alaska.

In the Midwest, leading retailer Hy-Vee ran the promotion in over 200 stores, developing a customized social media component that featured pictures and videos stamped with Hy-Vee’s brand, which the company said reached over 67,000 shoppers. 

“Hy-Vee is committed to making sure that our customers always have access to the freshest seafood which is brought to them through sustainable methods,” Jason Pride, the vice president of meat and seafood for Hy-Vee, said. “This promotion helped that message get to even more of our customers.”

Photo courtesy of BBRSDA

Contributing Editor reporting from Seattle, USA

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