Secret no longer: Salmones Austral picks eight products for Secret Island Salmon debut
Americans growing love for home-delivered seafood is no passing fancy, Salmones Austral and its head of U.S. business development Daniel Del Coro are betting.
On 29 September, 2022, Los Ángeles, Biobio, Chile-based Salmones Austral hosted a launch party in Portland, Maine, U.S.A. to celebrate the national debut of its Secret Island specialty brand, featuring seven new specialty products.
The brand’s original product, six-ounce portions of its Best Aquaculture Practices-certified Atlantic salmon shipped directly to consumers via two-day ground shipping, was made available to consumers on the U.S. East Coast beginning in October 2021.
As of October 2022, Salmones Austral is expanding both the range of its products and its delivery. The company will deliver across the United States, operating from distribution centers in North Carolina, Missouri, and California. And its suite of available products will include blackened and whiskey teriyaki-flavored Atlantic salmon portions, coho fillets, salmon hot dogs and burgers, smoked coho bacon, and cold-smoked sliced coho portions.
“This idea started in March 2020, at the beginning of the [COVID-19] pandemic, which was when there was a shift in how people were spending money on seafood. We thought, is there an opportunity for us to develop a direct-to-consumer, consumer-facing brand in North America?” Del Coro told SeafoodSource at the launch. “I came on in June 2021 because I saw this unique opportunity to leverage the company’s vertical integration to create a brand that would leverage the results of the pandemic, which is everyone is eating more seafood at home. That fear of cooking seafood at home is over now and we can now give people solutions to make it more convenient and accessible to them to receive and eat delicious salmon products at home.”
Salmones Austral was created in 2013 following the merger of Trusal and Pacific Star and currently has annual production of some 45,000 to 55,000 metric tons (MT), including Atlantic and coho salmon, with the United States being one of its primary markets. Salmones Austral Commercial Director Mauricio Toirkens told SeafoodSource the company also wants to lean further into its vertical integration and traceability from its freshwater, land-based recirculating aquaculture system hatchery through its sales and distribution as a means of differentiating itself in the U.S. market.
Del Coro said having the backing of a major salmon supplier and a company that already has a significant presence in the U.S. market has been critical in the foundation of the Secret Island brand.
“It’s my reason for being – to take the quality, R&D, and logistics and operational strength from Salmones Austral and then realize a market for them by building this brand,” he said. “On the wholesale side, people continue to work with us year after year after year after year, demanding our product because of the consistency of the quality provided by having full control over the entire supply chain. And that’s what we're bringing to the consumer – the scope we have is much broader than our competing direct-to-consumer seafood platforms in the U.S. And that’s what I think is unique in our offering as compared to others – I won’t name any of them by name, but 90 percent of them are aggregators. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that's their model. They're pulling some fish from one place, some fish from another. Maybe it's globally, maybe it's from Alaska. There's some pretty cool models, like community support fisheries, but no one is doing what we do.”
Developing an entirely new B2C sales and brand isn’t cheap or easy, Toirkens said, but the company sees the expense as worth it if it attains the two goals it has set for its Secret Island launch.
“One is to develop this e-commerce business, but also build the brand,” Toirkens said. “In the seafood industry, we have two very well-known brands, Pacific Star and Trusal, they are very well-known and are preferred by a lot of customers. But the final customer doesn't know this because when we sell to a restaurant, they just open the box [of salmon] and portion it out. Our idea with this is to create the image of the brand so then we can go back to retail or foodservice or wherever with the brand known by the customers. So it's long-term plan.”
In March 2022, Salmones Austral officially began pushing its Secret Island brand into U.S. wholesale market, with offerings of six-ounce portions available via shipping full containers via freight and common distribution. Toirkens said much of what the company has done with the brand – and many of its goals moving forward – have been dictated by the market shifts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We got this idea when this COVID situation started. In our case, the 50 percent of our sales that [had been] going to restaurants immediately went to zero, and 20 percent of our sales that were going to cruise lines also went to zero. But at the same time, we saw a 30 percent sales increase in retail. It was clear people were eating more salmon at home, and we saw a lot of studies saying that people were learning how cook at home and losing their fear of cooking seafood. So yeah, we saw an opportunity there,” he said. “And as we explored the possibilities, we saw there were two main markets buying in significant volumes from e-commerce: one was the U.S. and the other was China. We start exploring both markets. But in China, you have to create the brand before you go online. [In the U.S.], it is possible to great you have more ability to build a brand through marketing.”
Toirkens said the company sees the U.S. launch as just a first step before potential global expansion.
“We decided to start here, but once we have this thing running, we can replicate it elsewhere. If you have success with a brand in the U.S., you can bring it to China or Europe or back to Chile or really wherever,” he said. “But this will be just another channel for us. Realistically, I don't think this will replace what we're doing elsewhere because the other channels are taking big volumes and are completely different. This is more oriented to find a specific type of consumer who is wanting fun new products and new packaging.”
Del Coro said he sees more of a crossover for the Secret Island brand.
“The first step is to find direct-to-consumer [customers] on our own platform, and then we move into wholesale to retailers and foodservice. That's the next frontier, for next year and beyond,” he said. “We already have some fledgling accounts just going underneath our Secret Island brand umbrella, but we hope to leverage what we've done and establish this as a brand into our sales channel moving forward.”
Del Coro, who is currently Secret Island’s only U.S.-based employee, said he’s identified “four or five customer types that really make sense for the brand.”
“I fit solely into one of those – the busy mom or dad who wants to feed my kids good food but doesn’t always have the time. Then there’s the young, urban professional cooking for themselves, and people living inland who don’t have easy access to really good-quality seafood and can benefit from the convenience of having it shipped to their home. So based on these pockets of opportunity we’ve identified, these personas or customer avatars, that’s how we're rolling out our marketing initiatives,” he said.
The packaging of the new products, featuring resealable freezer bags and a durable, compostable extruded cornstarch box will be a major draw, Del Coro said.
“You can melt the box in your sink, which is pretty cool, but it actually has a higher cooling value than Styrofoam, and it's obviously a lot more earth friendly,” he said. “And in terms of sustainability, we don’t want our fish to go on a plane. We pack it on dry ice and we use FedEx trucks. That’s more efficient, less costly, and better for the atmosphere.”
Secret Island will allow customers to buy products individually, in bundled packages of product groupings, or as a subscription service, Del Coro said.
“We offer a subscription but only if it makes sense for the for the consumer. I don't personally know anyone who does a subscription and then says that that works for the long run, because they’re getting a huge box of fish every two weeks and they don’t have a big enough freezer,” he said. “We want our seafood to be accessible to everybody, and we mean that in a myriad of ways, including convenience and price point. We’re giving you a four-pack of seafood perfectly portioned that’s ready to go. You had a busy day at work. You're a single person, or you have a small family, and you reach into your freezer, grab it, and cook it.”
Del Coro acknowledged that the retail space for salmon is crowded, but he is convinced Secret Island’s offerings will set it apart.
“When I look at the competitive landscape, I'm really happy and excited with the way we're positioned, because we're really doing some unique products. There's a lot of white space. I mean, we are doing something novel” he said. “I just want people to try it. In our little trial over the past year, the vast majority of our sales are repeat customers. They try our products once and they love them and they keep on buying them. They’re better than what they're going to find in the grocery store, whether that's wild or farmed from any other place, it's way more convenient, and from a cost-per-portion perspective, you’re getting restaurant-quality stuff for USD 5.00 to USD 7.00 [EUR 5.06 to EUR 7.08] a portion. We believe that if make good on our brand promise and that consumers experience what we’re setting out to have them receive, we’re going to grow – and we want to have the sales throughput to allow us to make these products more accessible to more people.”
Photo courtesy of Cliff White/SeafoodSource