Wild Maine mussel supplier cashes in on “oyster halo”

Published on
January 19, 2017

The latest success of the oyster hasn’t only been felt by the species’ suppliers and raw bars. According to Bristol Seafood President and CEO Peter Handy, oysters have done wonders for his company’s emerging wild mussel business.

“There’s an oyster halo that we see,” Handy said during a shellfish-focused panel discussion at the 2017 Global Seafood Market Conference in San Francisco, California, on 18 January. “No one that I can think of could predict that a live, slimy thing could be such a good gateway drug into seafood, but it is, and we’re seeing a boom happen in the mussel business as well.”

Bristol has been in the mussel business for over a year now, including wild Maine mussels among its specialized portfolio. The choice to embrace mussels as one of Bristol’s specialty species arose from a persistent, popular question, explained Handy.

“One of the questions we’ve gotten a lot is ‘hey, why can’t you sell me something, fresh, wild and domestic that doesn’t cost so much?’ It’s something that I think we all face, that wild fisheries aren’t as big a portion of U.S. supply as people think they are,” Handy said. “We saw the wild Maine mussel as a really exciting way to bring someone something that’s fresh, wild, domestic and affordable.”

Mussels have also been proven to uniquely satisfy consumer desires to enjoy bivalves and mollusks from the comfort of home, without the need to master shucking techniques, Handy said.

“We’ve been focused on retail, because in our view a shucked oyster is a relatively more difficult experience to create at home,” said Handy. “There’s this oyster halo happening for shellfish – what’s one of the least expensive and most straightforward ways to create this experience at home? In our view, it’s mussels.”

Consumers, foodservice operators and other seafood buyers typically make their mussel purchasing decisions based on “how they’re grown, where they’re grown, and whether they’re farmed or wild,” said Handy. These considerations will continue to shape mussel sales in the future.

“People are certainly voting with their wallets, there are different levels of quality when it comes to production methods and where they’re from,” he said. “On the live side, just like oysters have a lot of different price points, there are a lot of different subtleties in mussels, too.”

Over the past year, imports of mussels have shown steady increases across the board, according to the GSMC panel, and supply has grown consistently as well.

A survey conducted by Bristol regarding what consumers want in shellfish and mussels revealed promising numbers for the species moving forward: About 60 percent of those surveyed said they had eaten a mussel before; furthermore, more than 70 percent of those who’ve tried mussels said they would eat them again.

“Most of the people that try a mussel end up liking it,” concluded Handy.

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