US West Coast is vanguard of direct-to-consumer seafood phenomenon

COVID-19 permanently changed how consumers buy seafood – and food in general. Many Americans now want to receive delivery of their favorite food items at their homes, providing significant new business for seafood suppliers and wholesalers.

Moss Landing, California, U.S.A.-based Santa Cruz Fish Company and Honolulu, Hawaii-based Honolulu Fish Co. are two companies benefiting from the direct to consumer (DTC) trend.

“DTC sales have continued to grow weekly since the start of the pandemic … and are now 30 percent of our total sales, up from just 2 percent prior to COVID,” Honolulu Fish CEO Wayne Samiere told SeafoodSource. “There is a sudden rise in consumer demand for authentic, specialty, nutrition-specific, personalized goods. We are getting requests from large consumer brand companies including nonfood brands to help provide digital website fresh fish products.”

Honolulu Fish delivers throughout the U.S. via FedEx guaranteed in 24 to 48 hours. And many of its consumer clients are adopting weekly ordering patterns as they make seafood a part of their regular diets, Samiere said.

“We notice that demand from consumers around events like Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, and Lent have been much stronger than we have seen in past years,” Samiere said.

Consumers on the U.S. West Coast have increased their orders 20 times more than those from other regions, according to Samiere. To meet the increased demand, Honolulu Fish launched a sub-brand, Honolulu Fish Delivered, to deliver fresh seafood to Hawaiian consumers, in February. Samiere said the consumer e-commerce offering includes the same fish, such as ono, kanpachi, and ahi, available to its commercial wholesale customers, but the products are packaged in two-pound units.

“Acceptance has been robust. This service is the first of its kind for Hawaii,” Samiere said. “Fresh fish is a big part of Hawaii culture and is readily available from grocery stores and even Costco. Our service offers expert selection of fresh fish right off the boats and delivery to the home for those that cannot get to the store, or prefer an expert to guide their selection.”

Santa Cruz Fish recently launched its first DTC e-commerce site to sell its farmed New Zealand Mount Cook Alpine Salmon, instead of focusing solely on supplying foodservice, meal-kit, and retail customers.

“With shutdowns in indoor dining, we looked at alternative ways of supporting Mount Cook,” Santa Cruz Fish CEO John Battendieri told SeafoodSource. “There is going to be an ongoing opportunity for home delivery: people are learning how to cook and there is a hesitancy to go back to restaurants, I’m not sure we will ever see the volume of people eating out prior to the pandemic.”

Santa Cruz delivers its Mount Cook Alpine Salmon fillets, lox, and salmon burgers to consumers in California and Nevada, where it can guarantee next-day delivery via GLS. Eventually, Santa Cruz will likely expand to shipping to states in close proximity to California.

“We are optimistic that it will become a more significant part of our business,” Battendieri said.

Likewise, Honolulu Fish expects its DTC business to account for 50 percent of its total sales by the end of 2021.

Americans are expected to continue to support DTC businesses of all types. Thirty percent of consumers say they see no different between buying from a DTC company and a traditional retailer, up from 15 percent who believed the same in 2020, according to a Scalefast survey conducted by third-party research firm YouGov.

“Pre-pandemic, DTC brands were seen as the digitally savvy retail category of the future,” said Olivier Schott, founder and CMO of Scalefast, an e-commerce platform. “What we’re seeing now is that many traditional retailers and branded manufacturers have learned valuable lessons from DTC brands, successfully expanded their own DTC channels and are now able to deliver an experience worthy of keeping and bringing back more customers.

Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Fish Company


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