Strategies for selling and exporting lobster to Asia

Published on
September 16, 2016

Softer shell may still be a harder sell in Asia when it comes to lobster fortitude, but companies like U.S.A.-based shellfish distributor Maine Coast are doing their best to change that.

“We’re trying to promote Maine lobster as the premiere product rather than being an inferior product to the hard shell,” explained Lyle Brown of Maine Coast, the company’s Asia specialist, to SeafoodSource. With hard-shell lobsters, there’s an easy recognition among the Asian market, said Brown, but the price differential gives softer-shell lobster distributors room to capitalize. Moreover, advancement in logistics has given lobster exporters like Maine Coast firmer ground from which to launch.

“Hard shell has had the exposure, because that was the first thing they were able to ship and that they felt safe in shipping for quite a while until the logistics improved to the point where we can ship firm-shell now,” said Brown.

The growing consumer and business mentality, especially among patrons in China, which regards U.S. products highly for their cleanliness and sustainability, likely has also aided in the sale of U.S. lobster to the Asian market.

“There’s a sense of the health consciousness of the U.S.A., of having products that are clean, environmentally friendly, non-GMO, etc,” said Brown. “There is a sincere interest with Chinese customers to have healthy products that have not been manipulated in a way, that are clean and fresh. Because China has its own hazards with its environment, and just getting clean seafood is a huge thing.”

Whereas the Maine lobster brand may get recognition and attention in the states, however, when exporting to Asia, Maine Coast keeps it simple.

“We ship it as U.S. lobster. We don’t even ship it as Maine lobster – we want it to be recognized as a U.S. product," Brown said.

There are always challenges when exporting, one of the most prominent being airlines and their shifting schedules, as well as downsizing planes.

“You always face difficulties with the airlines – airlines are changing their schedules every month, sometimes shorter notice, and you often won’t know the new schedule until a day before. And they change it by 10 or 11 hours. All of a sudden, your customer’s booked a flight and you’ve get told your shipment is going to arrive at 10:30 at night instead of 12:00 in the afternoon.”

Working with customs also presents its difficulties, but the importance is vast, said Brown. Staying in sync with customs and airlines, to the best of a supplier’s abilities, will help to keep them afloat in a robust, fast-moving market like Asia.

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