This US manufacturer sees growth in value-added seafood

Published on
October 2, 2015

Thanks to increased U.S. retail demand for value-added seafood – and growing consumer demand for seafood –Slade Gorton recently expanded its production capacity.

SeafoodSource recently caught up with Kim Gorton, president and CEO of the Boston, Mass.-based manufacturer, importer and distributor to discuss the company’s growth – as well as industry trends.

Blank: How are the various segments of Slade Gorton’s business growing?

Gorton: Core business has had fantastic growth this year and we are continuing to see double-digit growth in the industry and internally for value-added seafood. Convenience is a huge trend and that’s why value-added growth is so significant. Demographics are changing in the U.S. and consumers are looking for more variety and flavor. There is a lot more interest in seafood and global cuisine and a lot more interest in health. Seafood is coming into its time; it’s such an interesting food that people can socialize around.

We are mainly focused on North America with our core frozen distribution brand ICYBAY and our fresh and value-added lines, Sonoma Seafoods and Gourmet Bay. Expanding internationally is not off the table for the future. A significant portion of our fresh, value-added product is sold bulk into the retail channel, to be sold in the service seafood case. Our total business is 70 percent foodservice and 30 percent retail today, and we view foodservice as a great growth opportunity. There is an unmet need in foodservice for value-added, high-end seafood, which is more innovative than what has traditionally been available.

Blank: How has Slade Gorton expanded to meet the growing demand?

Gorton: We have had to convert some space we already have in existing facilities, and have made a seven-figure investment in packaging equipment and automation. We have not had to open a new facility or look at significant co-packing, but that is likely down the road.

Blank: What are some of the biggest challenges Slade Gorton is experiencing?

Gorton: Since late 2008, consumers are much more wary of where they spend their money. As an industry, we have seen some price resistance in terms of our ability to increase prices. Some of it is at the consumer level and some is at supply chain level, whether it is distributors or retailers looking for ways to take costs out of the system. We look at where are there inefficiencies internally to minimize cost increases. There has been tremendous amount of consolidation in the U.S. and globally and, as global prices rise, there is incentive to drive costs out of the supply chain. One of the key things is relationships still matter and they will always matter. In terms of credibility and trust, it’s not just about price on any given day, it’s about service level. It’s about how we communicate and what we communicate. Delivering bad news early and taking credit for it goes a long way with our customers and our vendors.

Blank: What are the major challenges the seafood industry is facing?

Gorton: The challenge we face as an industry, given the projected increase in global demand for seafood, is balancing on the continuum between environmental degradation and global starvation. Industry needs to be a voice at the table, working collaboratively with governments, NGOs and other interested stakeholders. Over the last five to six years, I have seen the industry come together more than in the past to work on issues such as sustainability, social welfare and food safety.

We have zero tolerance for human trafficking, and it’s a great example of us [as an industry] coming together. It is not in a way that is always public. I have seen organizations at all levels of the supply chain work to really eradicate it. We want to let the consuming public know that it is not acceptable and we are working very hard to solve this problem.

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