Gorton’s unveils product revival, new cod items

Published on
November 20, 2018

Gorton’s recently conducted a major overhaul of eight of its top-selling products, introducing new formulations, including microwavable fish sticks for the first time, and upgraded packaging. The revamped items, which include a switch to once-frozen, sustainable pollock, can now be found in major grocery chains across the country.

SeafoodSource recently talked with Chris Hussey, vice president of marketing for the Gloucester, Massachusetts, U.S.A.-based supplier, about the product changes – along with new items that will launch in December and sales of its products via Amazon and other online retailers.

SeafoodSource: What led Gorton’s to carry out the changes it has made to its most popular products?

Hussey: Gorton’s improved eight products, which are among the top-selling items in our portfolio and represent just under 40 percent of our business. They are our traditional breaded and battered pollock items. There are many reasons we decided to upgrade our classic product line, but it all starts with consumers. We conducted multiple research studies with thousands of consumers across the U.S. to understand what they want and need from their frozen seafood options and how we can serve them better. 

It was clear that the product improvements made a positive difference. Consumers preferred the new products for their flavor, texture, appearance, flakiness and simple ingredients. When a third-party ran an in-market test, we saw double-digit growth in sales. Based on all of this consumer feedback, we’re confident consumers across the country will love the changes.

SeafoodSource: How and why did you go about changing the products?

Hussey: We knew we could deliver a fresher-tasting eating experience and delight consumers by improving quality and minimizing processing even further by going to once-frozen, sustainably-caught pollock, so we did. This effort is one way of helping consumers follow the United States Department of Agriculture recommendation to eat seafood twice a week as a primary source of protein, because we believe that when there are fresh-tasting, nutritious options that are easy to make at home, people are more likely to follow that recommendation and eat seafood.

The products are flash-frozen only once at the source, at the peak of freshness, to lock in maximum flavor and nutrition. Prior to this change, the fillet products were twice-frozen and the fish sticks were made from minced pollock. The minced fish we used in our fish sticks was only once frozen, while the twice frozen process means the fish is caught, frozen, transported to a production facility, and then thawed only as much as necessary in order to fillet the fish, and then re-frozen. This process tends to result in some natural oxidation and dehydration, impacting taste, texture, and appearance.

For the first time, fish sticks can be cooked in the microwave so they’re ready in only one to three minutes. The products all have a faster cook-time in the oven so they are all conveniently ready in less than 20 minutes (between 13 and 19 minutes, down from 17 to 26 minutes). In addition, the Crunchy Breaded Fish Sticks are now 55 percent larger and with a new Panko breadcrumb for extra crunch. 

SeafoodSource: Did you switch suppliers, or work with your current suppliers on supplying a higher quality, sustainable fish?

Hussey: We worked largely with current suppliers; however, we brought on some new supply partners as well. All of our partners harvest high quality wild-caught pollock, which is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and meets our high standards and criteria to be classified under the Gorton’s Trusted Catch program. Gorton's forges long-term relationships with suppliers that are as committed to the same high standards as we are. 

SeafoodSource: Is Gorton's selling its products online, either via it own website or via Amazon or another retailer? Around what percentage of Gorton’s total sales is e-commerce currently? 

Hussey: Gorton’s is selling its products online via Amazon Fresh and through other traditional retailers, in both online order and delivery as well as click-and- collect type programs. Measuring the total impact of e-commerce sales is still quite difficult to do as most of these sales flow through the traditional brick and mortar retailers. We do expect e-commerce sales to grow significantly over time and are doing what we can now to ensure we are prepared to capitalize on whatever growth frozen and frozen seafood achieves within that.

SeafoodSource: Does Gorton's plans to launch new products later this year or early next year?

Hussey: Gorton’s is building on the success of its Premium Species Stick and Fillet line by introducing two new cod line extensions: a premium cod fillet and a premium cod stick. Both offerings will be made from only simple, high quality ingredients and come in larger fillet cuts than our traditional classic breaded and battered items. Cod remains the most broadly-known and highest-appeal whitefish with consumers across the U.S., so expanding our line to include cod is meeting an unmet need. The items will be available nationwide and will begin shipping to customers in December.

We are also actively expanding our highly appealing Simply Bake Shrimp Scampi. Launched in 2018 to a limited universe, the Simply Bake Shrimp Scampi Item quickly became the top turning item in our successful Simply Bake platform. Consumers really love the convenient, no mess, no prep benefit of our proprietary bake-perfect oven pouch. We also get high numbers of complimentary calls on the delicious flavor of our scampi sauce which is made from real garlic, parmesan, and butter. 

We have gained fairly wide distribution (including national customers like Walmart, Target and larger regional customers such as Publix and Ahold), but continue to look at opportunities to close any distribution gaps with retailers.

Contributing Editor

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