Millennials thinking differently about seafood, marketers say

Published on
November 23, 2016

A panel of millennial fishermen and seafood professionals offered tips and secrets of marketing their products to their generation during a forum at the 2016 Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, 19 November.

Millennials require “a new direction” in marketing and sales efforts, according to Becky Martello, the executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Martello’s association recently launched a pilot project in Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A., designed to boost sockeye salmon sales among millennial consumers.

BBRSDA’s marketing effort “Tells the story of the food and they place where their food is harvested, and gives customers the perception and knowledge they are buying a quality product,” Martello said.

That effort feeds into the millennial mantra of “Trying to live a more fulfilled life,” she said.

“They’re cooking at home and they’re more excited about the products they buy and eat. They’re more involved with their food systems and looking for a more meaningful connection to their food. They’re sharing more with their family and friends," Martello said.

They’re also comfortable buying products – and food – online, she added. In order to market to them in that space, Martello said her organization has invested in “creating rich, vibrant content that’s not static – that’s always being updated,” she said.

“This generation has so many different messages coming at them from all different directions, you have to make yourself stand out. When trying to appeal to this demographic, be bold,” Martello advised.

Social media is vital in marketing to millennials, Martello said. The rest of the panel, including Claire Neaton, co-owner of Salmon Sisters, an online vendor of Alaska-related products, including seafood, agreed.

“With our generation, social media is the easiest way to tell your story. Combined with the use of videos and photos, it’s the best way to connect with (a millennial) audience and customers,” Neaton said. “It’s a great way to connect millennial customers with the people involved in the company, which is a connection they’re looking for.”

Grocery stores have struggled with that phenomenon, which is why their sales numbers when it comes to millennials have lagged, moderator Kate Consenstein, the owner of Alaska-based Rising Tide Communications, said.

“They’re tending to pivot away from traditional grocery stores, [instead] favoring specialty stores,” she said. Her company was working on “how to get seafood into that specialty zone, like bread, coffee and alcohol.”

“We can’t be afraid of calling seafood an elite ingredient, a premium ingredient,” Consenstein said. “It’s weird to think that the millennial generation, which is struggling with debt and can’t even think about buying a home, is still willing to buy an [expensive] halibut fillet. But this generation is willing to eat beans and rice all week and then buy that halibut on Saturday to share with their friends. They’re willing to invest in high-quality food items in a measured way.”

Martello said that while previous generations preferred convenience when it came to food, millennials prioritized “celebration.”

“For them, food is an event,” she said. “It’s not a burden anymore, but rather something to have fun with. "

Marsh Skeele of Sitka Salmon Shares, a community-supported fishery (CSF) that ships directly to customers’ residences, said convenience was still a factor when it came to deliveries.

“Millennials often don’t have cars; they take public transportation. They might not be able to get to a storefront. So that’s a big driver in online sales,” he said.

Skeele said he tried to make customers feel like they’re part of a club, rather than just buying a product from a business. Methods the panel suggested for doing this included telling personal stories about their companies and staff, participating in pop-up events and special events in restaurants, and partnering with local-oriented distribution networks like CSAs.

Nelly Hand, the co-owner of Drifter’s Fish, an online marketplace selling salmon she catches in the Copper River and Prince William Sound, Alaska, agreed that small businesses selling online have an advantage when it comes to selling to millennials.

“There is an opening for smaller, specialty retailers, as millennials love to support small businesses. They’re OK paying more for food once they know the story behind it,” she said. “A lot of our customers want to have that connection with businesses and the people behind them, as long as they connect with their values. That means you have to provide products that, in the case of seafood, are traceable, sustainably harvested, and are caught and handled by people they trust.”

It’s also necessary to go the extra yard when it comes to customer service, Skeele said.

“If you’re charging more and selling your product like it’s a specialty item, your (millennial) customers are going to expect perfect customer service,” he said. “Honesty is really huge, as is the ability to explain yourself clearly.”

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