Q&A: Duncan Berry, Fishpeople

Published on
January 17, 2013

After launching its shelf-stable seafood meals last fall, Fishpeople already has distribution in natural food chains such as Whole Foods Market and will soon be in the Kroger-owned chains Fred Meyer and QFC in the Pacific Northwest. The unique products, packaged in shelf-stable, ready-to-heat pouches, retail for USD 5.99 per 7-ounce package. The four meal varieties are: Salmon in Chardonnay Dill Cream Sauce, Smoked Salmon and Smoked Oyster Chowder, Coconut Yellow Curry Tuna, and Thai Coconut Lemongrass Tuna.

Seafood Source recently talked to Duncan Berry, president of Fishpeople, about why the Portland, Ore., company focuses on seafood pouches, and what is next for Fishpeople. 

Blank: How did the company form?  

Berry: I started as a commercial fisherman in 1970s, then left that business to pursue my college education and a 25-year career in building my own business. In 2010, I was part of a community team designing a local marine reserve on the Oregon coast, which got me interested in the fishing business again. I took nine months off from the company I owned, and we interviewed everyone in the seafood supply chain - from the dock level to the dinner plate. They said we would have the most leverage in [preserving marine resources and supporting coastal communities] in the seafood industry by being a brand. We are closer to our customer and we can make more of an impact down the supply chain with our purchasing power.

Our brand practices are very specific around financial return, community impact, along with fish habitat and fish stock. Rather than just focusing on "sustainable” seafood, which means six billion different things to six billion different people, we analyzed every single species in the Pacific Northwest for habitat degradation, stock levels, and other factors. Within Oregon, we only consume about 12 percent of the seafood we catch. That other 88 percent is going somewhere else and people are adding value to our natural resource. What we said to ourselves is, “We are sustainability nuts and foodies. We should be able to value add to seafood here in the Pacific northwest and not ship it all to other countries or states.”

Why did you decide to sell seafood meals in a pouch? 

In Asia and Europe, pouches have been a dominant food delivery system, but Americans are just discovering it. Our philosophy is taking the flavors and ingredients of our region and creating a meal for people who have an uneasy relationship with seafood. When we interviewed consumers, they said that they don’t like that seafood smells up their house when they cook it. Also, they said seafood is expensive. So, if they mess up cooking a meal, they don’t want to take the chance and cook it again. They said, “If you could make it convenient, I would buy it.”

This is designed so that, three minutes after you get home, you could be eating a pan- fresh meal with no added ingredients. Convenience and seafood don’t usually go in the same sentence; in our case, they do. Also, with convenience, you often give up flavor. We have a remarkable flavor profile.

How do you manufacture the line and where is it distributed? 

Our primary processor is Bornstein Seafoods, and Skipanon is a smaller processor. We also have a sauce kitchen and a co-packer located in the state of Oregon. All but a few of the ingredients in every pouch are sourced locally in the norhwest. Last September, we launched in the Portland market at New Seasons Markets and then we rolled it out to Whole Foods stores in the region, PCC Natural Markets, and other independent natural food stores. Kroger buyers found us through distributors. We have our eye on club stores in the future, as well as foodservice. We have had interest from foodservice, but right now we have to focus on our retail partners and will do that at a later time.

What product lines will you add in the future? 

We are trying to colonize different areas of the grocery store, rather than just being over in the shelf stable department. We will have product lines that will be cross-marketed in the fresh seafood department, in the deli department, and in the produce area. For the fresh seafood department, our next product line will be companion sauces, sold in pouches.

Contributing Editor

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