Cooke quietly launches premium Cutler Cove Salmon brand
Cooke Aquaculture’s True North Seafood has quietly launched a premium salmon brand that leans heavily on its origins in the U.S. state of Maine.
Described in a promotional video as “one of the best ocean-raised Atlantic salmon in America, straight from the heart of Maine,” and “exceptional in every way,” Cutler Cove Salmon is now available on a limited basis in fillets and portions through Baldor Specialty Food in New York City; Harbor Fish in Portland, Maine; and Taylor Lobster in Kittery, Maine, according to True North Vice President of Marketing Jill Cronk.
“Cutler Cove Salmon is our premier salmon offering in the U.S. market,” Cronk told SeafoodSource. “We know from our market research that seafood consumers are interested in salmon that is Product of U.S.A., raised without the use of antibiotics, fresh [and] never frozen, and [Best Aquaculture Practices] four-star certified. Cooke Aquaculture USA is the only producer of ocean-raised, Atlantic salmon in the U.S. market, so we were already well-positioned to produce salmon that meets all these criteria. Cutler Cove Salmon is raised and harvested in Maine, shipped in recyclable packaging, and transported by truck. We created the Cutler Cove Salmon brand to help our customer base, from home cooks, to chefs, and upscale retailers, easily identify the salmon that has all these key features.”
The company, with its global headquarters in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada and its North American salmon farming division located in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, is not a U.S. firm. But the brand’s connection to Cooke isn’t mentioned on the Cutler Cove Salmon website, which emphasizes the salmon’s Maine origins, with the brand’s logo featuring a “Maine, U.S.A.” tagline.
Cooke declined to provide the company’s current production volumes for Cutler Cove Salmon, but Cronk said the company’s goal is to grow the brand’s footprint nationally.
“Expansion plans are currently regionally focused, with intentions to grow across the U.S.,” she said.
Baldor Specialty Foods Director of Merchandising Kevin Lindgren said his company, which serves approximately 5,000 restaurants in the U.S. Northeast on a daily basis, has been carrying Cutler Cove Salmon since May 2022.
“Baldor has done business with Cooke, buying their smoked salmon, for at least the past 10 years, and [eventually] expanding to frozen salmon under the True North label. Our sales rep learned what we were looking for how we were trying to grow the category and gave us the opportunity with the Cutler Cove Salmon,” Lindgren said. “We want to carry premium products, not the same commodities that everybody else has. And we Cutler Cove Salmon checks every box for us.”
Lindgren listed sustainability and quality as the two most-important characteristics Baldor is looking for in the products it carries.
“The goal for the seafood category of Baldor is to provide a tremendous amount of transparency and try to raise the overall industry standard of quality while also letting our customers know everything they want about the product. And then we let the chef decide what they think is the is the best product out there,” he said. “When we got the opportunity [to carry] Cutler Cove Salmon, we thought it made total sense – We have a footprint in Maine, so it's a local product for us. They're not using antibiotics. They’ve got a Monterey Bay Seafood Watch level yellow [rating], they’ve got BAP certification. Our customers – and especially our high-end customers – really like to see third-party verification. It really gives them what they want because they know that they're getting what they pay for.”
Lindgren said Cutler Cove’s Maine branding has been a major selling point for Baldor.
“Local, local, local has been huge for 10 to 15 years now, and our thing is we offer a huge selection of local produce and local protein and local specialty items. And we thought it was really important for us to have a domestic product, and even more specifically, a local product,” he said. “When we say local, you're not going to raise Atlantic salmon off the coast of Long Island [in New York]. It's just not going to work. So how close can we get to the source? How close can we get it to us? And how do we educate the chef on, ‘Hey, this is about as close as we can get this for reasons X, Y and Z.’”
But all the sustainability bona fides that Cutler Cove Salmon carries aren’t worth much if chefs don’t like how the fish cooks and diners don’t like how it eats, Lindgren said. But he said the product delivers on both counts.
“When you cook it up. it stays firm but it stays incredibly moist. Sometimes the more commodity salmon either tightens up and dries out really quickly, or when you cook it and you try to cut it or put it on a plate, it falls over and it kind of comes apart. That won’t work,” Lindgren said. “On the plate, it’s a nice-looking piece of salmon – people love the color. And it never smells. And it has real salmon flavor. It doesn't taste like nothing and it’s not overly fishy. And a word I hear a lot is mouthfeel – it has a very, very nice mouthfeel.”
Baldor sells the product in five-pound boxes of 13 six-ounce portions, as well as 10-pound boxes of three-sided D-trim fillets. After getting a positive response from his customers, Lindgren said he’s now selling 1,200 to 1,500 pounds weekly and expects to be selling around 2,000 pounds per week through the holiday season.
“Once it gets to our customers, it tends to be a very sticky item,” meaning Baldor sees a lot of repeat sales, Lindgren said. “Right now, it’s about getting the product out there and exposing the customer to the product, as well as educating our sales staff about the product so they can answer any questions they get. And then it’s about converting those customers that do try the product, and with this product, it has been a really easy conversion. Anybody we’ve gotten to eat the product has had a really positive response.”
One final selling point for the salmon – often overlooked by other companies, according to Lindgren – is the packaging used for the Cutler Cover Salmon. The salmon is protected by a corrugated cardboard box that’s made from recycled materials and that’s 100 percent recyclable. Its thermal liner, bag liner, and the butcher paper used to wrap the fish is all recyclable.
“The packaging is a big thing, especially with people don't want to have to getting rid of Styrofoam, which can be a nightmare,” Lindgren said.
Despite Cooke maintaining a low profile in the launch process, Lindgren said the company has delivered on everything Baldor has asked of it.
“They have totally delivered for us and we couldn't ask for a better partner as we look to grow our seafood category. The way that our seafood program has been growing lately, it’s likely to double every year for the next three years or so. And then we'll probably grow it 50 to 60 percent after that for another three years,” he said. “I'm sure there's going to be many more things that we do with them long-term, but for this, we were going to pick one domestic salmon option that we think is the best in the category, and then that becomes a brand that we champion. Cutler Cove Salmon has earned the title of the product we want to sell.”
Photo courtesy of True North Seafood