E-commerce protein provider ButcherBox offers new traceable wild-caught sea scallops with help from Legit Fish
Michael Billings – who heads procurement for the Boston, Massachusetts-based protein delivery company ButcherBox – couldn’t remember exactly what compelled him to call longtime colleague Michael Carroll, the fisheries economist who founded software firm Legit Fish, a while back. Nevertheless, he’s glad he did.
“I don’t even know why, but I just picked up the phone and called [Carroll],” Billings told SeafoodSource, recalling the origin story behind the trailblazing partnership between ButcherBox and Legit Fish, which was christened last month with the launch of fully-traceable, wild-caught sea scallops on ButcherBox’s e-commerce platform.
ButcherBox, which delivers grass-fed beef, free-range organic chicken, heritage breed pork, and wild-caught Alaskan salmon to customers across the U.S., was contemplating the expansion of its premium protein portfolio when Billings considered scallops, and then Carroll.
“I knew that if I did something that was local, it had to either be haddock or cod or scallops,” Billings said of ButcherBox’s rationale for choosing scallops. “I mean, so many of the scallops come in right here in New Bedford, so I figured that made sense. Plus, from my prior life, I knew that with scallops … not many people know what a real, natural, never-enhanced product tastes like. Especially if you live in the Midwest, unless you go to a Whole Foods or Costco or one of the people that are always on the high end of it – I know supermarkets don’t play in this area very much, [the scallops] are all enhanced.”
With scallops decided upon, Billings placed his fateful phone call to Carroll, whom he had interfaced with frequently when he worked for BJ’s Wholesale Club and when Carroll was with the New England Aquarium. That’s when Carroll told him about Legit Fish and its software system capabilities, and immediately, Billings was hooked.
“From the time he told me the story, I said, ‘Thank god, we’re finally going to have some transparency in fish,’” he said.
Legit Fish, which is also based out of Boston, was founded by Carroll six years ago with the aim of filling in one of the U.S. seafood industry’s major traceability gaps and combatting seafood fraud. The firm leverages technology and government harvest data to trace products from the boat to the dinner plate, with each Legit Fish-traced product’s package displaying a comprehensive label and scannable QR-code that details the species, vessel names, fishing area, and landing port where the seafood came ashore.
“We thought this was a great idea, to build what we saw at the time as being the ability to trace fish back to an authenticated record,” Carroll said of Legit Fish’s founding. “What happened was that we quickly realized the seafood industry isn’t that technologically advanced, and most of these docks that offload fish didn’t have any kind of electronic technology. So, the data coming from the dock, not only was it not mobile, but it was on paper and didn’t have the ability to transfer quick enough as the product moves down the supply chain.”
“Really, the big gap in traceability is from the boat to the dock, and then to the back of the processor,” Carroll continued. “Most traceability starts at the back of the processor, it doesn’t tie back to the dock and if it does, it definitely doesn’t tie back with any utilization of a current harvest record. When we went to do this many years ago, I did enough research to understand that that was the big thing that was missing – the fact that there wasn’t authenticated data coming off of the dock that was filling into these systems, and we focused our energy in that area because we knew that was the need, but we also knew that this stuff was retailer driven as well.”
ButcherBox’s foray into scallops made the company an ideal retail partner for Legit Fish, which currently sees about 40 percent of scallops landed in the U.S. go through its ERP auction system. All scallops sold by ButcherBox bear the Legit Fish label and traceability technology, an addition that Billings sees as a true quality-booster for the product.
“I think [transparency] is incredibly important. And with us being a claims-based company, I think it’s even more important. It adds even more pressure on us to make sure we do it right and make sure we tell people everything they should to know about their product,” Billings said.
“The [seafood] industry, all over, just needs some real transparency. I think in the long run, it’s going to increase the quality, I hope, for the industry,” he added.
ButcherBox has found success in looking at sourcing backwards, Billings explained, highlighting quality before all else.
“We think about quality first, and price is way down at the end,” he said. “Literally, from the day our scallops come in, they’re offloaded from the boat, go through the auction, get transferred to the party that’s going to pack them, and packaged – it’s two days max. They’re frozen, glazed, and in a bag, and sometimes it could be done the same day they went through the auction (they go through the auction the day the boat comes in). So, it’s pretty cool.”
With its new scalable traceability system in place thanks to Legit Fish, ButcherBox is hopeful about what the future might bring in terms of more potential seafood offerings.
“This process can scale – this may be able to go to other fish,” Billings said. “My hope is that this can be scalable in other areas and we can continue to be the pioneer of this with other types of fish.”
Billings said the company is looking in the New England region this year for portfolio expansion when it comes to seafood. Meanwhile, according to Carroll, Legit Fish is also emphasizing growth heading into 2020.
“We are currently in conversations with multiple other fisheries here in the United States about rolling out the ERP system, which will give us the ability to launch new species with the labeling system,” Carroll said. “Our goal – now that the software is built and is fully functional – is to try to expand the software to as many locations here in the U.S. as possible.”
More information about ButcherBox's newest seafood offering can be found in the video below, which was released by the company in late August when the sea scallops first became available:
Photo and video courtesy of ButcherBox