Newcomer Alaskan Leader Seafoods wins two Symphony of Seafood awards
The first time was the charm for Alaskan Leader Seafoods at the Symphony of Seafood competition, an annual contest put on by The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF) to honor product innovation in Alaska's seafood industry.
Alaskan Leader Seafoods entered the contest for the first time and won two prizes, taking first place in the Retail category for the company’s “Premium Wild-Caught Alaska Cod with Lemon-Herb Butter” and winning the Beyond the Plate category for “Cod Crunchies,” a pet treat.
AFDF executive director Julie Decker announced the awards Friday, 17 November, at the Main Stage at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, Washington, at the end of a panel discussion on product development.
Keith Singleton, who runs the value-added division at Alaskan Leader Seafoods, was not even sure if his product was ready to compete, but was thrilled with the award.
“This is a prestigious award for us. We’ve never entered any competition at all and we’ve put in a lot of work to get here,” Singleton said.
“There were times when we thought about giving up,” he said, pointing out that the product is now in 40 Costco stores, with expectations it will have an expanded reach into 250 more Costco stores soon.
Award winners receive complimentary airfare and booth space to take part in Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts, and are automatically entered into the Seafood Excellence Awards, a global seafood product competition.
Singleton said the cod fillets’ had a winding journey toward becoming an award-winning product, but said the pet treats came out of a much more relaxed process of experimentation with waste from cod processing.
“We took the trim from the fillets and we ran it through a mincer and made it into blocks and gave it to [Ocean Beauty Vice President of Marketing and Communications] Tom [Sunderland], who has a salmon jerky machine. He dehydrated it and made it into these cute little wafers for animals. We gave them to the dogs and they chased us all around the place,” Singleton said.
Trident Seafoods won for the Foodservice category with its “Hot and Spicy Fish Sandwich,” as well the Beyond the Egg category for its “Wild Alaska Pollock Roe.” The Seattle People’s Choice award went to the “Sockeye Salmon Jerky,” developed by a joint venture between Jack Links and Trident Seafoods.
Bruce Schatler, a commercial fisherman and industry advocate who also works for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said the kind of product development honored by Symphony of Seafood has saved commercial fishing from economic collapse, pointing the diversification in salmon products as an example.
“It used to be that we had two different types of salmon, canned and headed and gutted, sitting in a crate on the floor at the grocery like pumpkins during Halloween. Now we have hundreds of new products…that have created a several hundred percent increase in value,” Schatler said.
Ocean Beauty’s Sunderland pointed out that while product development is expensive, time-consuming and has a poor success rate, it is pivotal in stabilizing seafood markets.
“Product development is where the fundamental economics of our fisheries are altered,” he said. “The salmon business in particular is less volatile than it used to be because we have more products under more brands. [And] the less volatile it becomes, the more value we get out of the product.”