Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative leader talks foodservice strategy

After receiving additional funding from license holders via the Maine legislature last year and hiring a new executive director – Matt Jacobson, formerly CEO of Maine & Co. — the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) is forming a new marketing strategy. The MLMC receives a percentage of Maine lobster landings and the state legislature allotted USD 1.5 million (EUR 1.1 million) in 2015, and USD 2.2 million (EUR 1.6 million) annually for 2016-2018 for promotions.

SeafoodSource recently caught up with Jacobson to talk about MLMC’s new marketing strategy for 2015.

Blank: How did MLMC go about designing a new marketing strategy? What was missing?
Jacobson: We really started at zero. We re-evaluated our strategy and tried to understand what we are marketing and to whom. We want everybody in the supply chain in Maine to make more money, but how do you measure that and how do you put that into a business case? We spent a good amount of time wresting with those strategic questions. What it came down to was increasing demand for Maine lobster, trying to focus on those things that are unique to Maine lobster, and make it better.

What are you going to do differently when marketing Maine lobster in the U.S. and abroad this year?
We are going to focus first on our backyard. In other years, we might do more international promotion, but this year, we are going to focus on the United States, from Delaware north and maybe as far as Pennsylvania. As time goes on, we will see more geographic differentiation. Focusing on an overseas market doesn’t work best for us at a time when we need to increase demand. Also, that market is growing fine without us.

We are going to try to focus our efforts when our supply is the highest and our price is the lowest, which happens to be the first part of the summer when landings are going crazy. The issue for us is we land new shell lobsters at that time, which are difficult to transport long distances. A lot of people don’t know the difference between soft shell and hard shell lobster, and we believe soft shell lobster tastes better. It’s a seasonal delicacy and it’s a secret that a lot of people don’t realize. We are going to focus on this notion of Maine and who catches it; it is caught by hand, our guys are out there, measuring the trap and making sure it is the right height and weight, all done by hand. It is a purposely inefficient system, meaning that we haven’t sucked up all the lobsters. It all adds up to a sustainable fishery.

Will this be a consumer-focused or industry-focused marketing campaign?
It will be in the foodservice channel, and we are going to find creative ways to reach consumers. We conducted a ton of market research and found that, of the 2,200 upscale restaurants in our target market [the Northeast U.S.] only 4 percent have Maine lobster on the menu. The attributes of Maine lobster will have more resonance in those places, since the trend is getting away from the big factory farms and fisheries.

How will you market to restaurants and consumers?
One of the things we have learned over time is that chefs really enjoy having relationships with the fishermen. We are going to engineer some meet-ups. We will invite people here, and there is a Lobster Academy sponsored by one of our processors, which explains what it takes to get lobster from the water to the plate. We have a whole lot of tactics that we haven’t decided on yet.

There are a lot of basic things we have to do, such as re-building our website and our digital presence. We are going to find creative ways to reach consumers and we will do that with our website and events. We are going to get these stories of Maine lobstermen out as best we can. We have retained [public relations firm] Weber Shandwick. I suspect advertising won’t be a very big part of it, we will be trying to get more earned media.

When will you implement the new marketing campaign?
The first part of May. It takes awhile to build the website and pitch stories. And we are going to hit it hard through June and July.


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