High Liner gets bold with new product line

Published on
March 23, 2017

High Liner Foods has followed through on promises to revamp its retail offerings with the introduction of 10 new value-added products through its Sea Cuisine line, including tilapia, salmon, cod and scallops, all with bolder flavor profiles.

High Liner, with U.S. operations based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has experienced lower sales volumes as North American consumers move away from traditional breaded and battered products. In the company’s year-end conference call, CEO Keith Decker said the company would be launching “innovative” new products to try to win customers back – and bring new customers into eating seafood.

“Innovation activities and new product offerings in 2017 will focus on bringing new customers to the frozen seafood category through the introduction of new frozen seafood products that align with emerging consumer trends and preferences,” Decker said.

The 10 new products announced at the expo include Pan Sear Garlic and Herb Tilapia; Pan Sear Teriyaki Sesame Salmon; Flame Seared Lemon Pepper Scallops; Mango Habanero Tilapia; Asian Grill Rubbed Salmon; Citrus Herb Rubbed Salmon; Honey Chipotle Salmon; Stout Spiked BBQ Salmon; Sweet Sriracha Rubbed Salmon Skewers; and Montreal Seasoned Cod.

“It is ambitious,” Jeff Tahnk, Vice President of Retail Marketing at High Liner Foods, said at the 2017 Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts. “It all started with need to think about the category in a different way – category trends in frozen have not been very favorable, and we all talk about why. This was our answer to the question of, how do you make it more exiting, transparent, and put the fresh back in frozen?’”

Most consumers have two to three go-to recipes for seafood they like eating, Tahnk said, and these products were designed “to get them outside of that” using bolder flavors that haven’t been seen before in seafood, like the mango habanero tilapia or the Montreal seasoning on the cod product. With that goal in mind, High Liner worried a little less about price-points, Tahnk said.

“You always have to be careful about prices going up, because most people believe seafood is too expensive. Especially when compared to the everyday protein option of chicken, seafood becomes a special treat,” he said. “We walk that fine line of being a good value but, the reality is, our products are more expensive than chicken. That’s the reality. Then it becomes about delivering value to the buyer.”

High Liner’s new scallop product is an example of High Liner’s new approach, Tahnk said.

“Traditionally, scallops are thought of as a very niche thing – you wouldn’t typically see them in a national product launch. But we think that consumers would love to eat scallops at home but they are terrified about preparing them," Tahnk said. "We were definitely scared about price-points scaring off consumers but, in reality, what we realized is that, if we’re delivering what they want, the price-point is not scaring off the customers – actually, it can even attract them. If you deliver on the idea of ‘more is more,’ that’s better than delivering a mediocre experience.”

All 10 products have all been successfully piloted in 1,200 Kroger stores across the U.S. in 2016, and are now being introduced nationwide at Kroger; Target; Albertstons; Harvest Meat Company; Super Valu; Hy-Vee; Bashas; Shaws; Market Basket; Winco; and Walmart.

In its launch, High Liner is taking a novel approach to its place in the market. Rather than viewing the grocery store as an arena for competition with other seafood companies, High Liner sees the promotion of greater seafood consumption as a group effort.

“We’re all facing the same issue: how do you drive seafood consumption?” Tahnk said. “Our goal is not to steal market share from our competitors, but rather drive new consumers into the category. We think that’s the mark of a good launch – getting people to try seafood or a new product for the first time, and when they do try it, to get them to want more. And so far in our launch, those metrics have been exciting.”

High Liner also wants to get consumers over the stigma against frozen foods and “back to shopping the center of the store,” Tahnk said.

“People are shopping more around the perimeter of the store and we need to address that,” Tahnk said. “Shelf presence is massively important. We make sure to invest in packaging that looks amazing.”

But Tahnk said High Liner’s goal goes beyond attracting the consumer to the product via eye-catching packaging.

“It’s great if the product gets their attention, but the products also have to deliver or else we’ll never get repeat sales. It’s fun to create a nice story but if you can’t back up all the claims, such as on transparency, clean ingredients, and sustainability, you’re not going to have lasting success,” Tahnk said. “Our products hits all the buttons get consumer to pick the product up, and then their amazing taste blows them away. That’s about quality of seafood and the recipes we use.”

High Liner is promoting the new products with a “heavy campaign of coupons, a mobile tour and a digital advertising campaign, Tahnk said. In addition, High Liner has started to pay especially close attention to social media to determine the experiences are having with its products, Tahnk said.

“It tells us what consumers are telling their friends, if they’re sharing with them how great their experience is,” Tahnk said. “And we’re not just listening, we’re talking, too. I think that’s what the category needs – conversations we have never been a part of before.”

Tahnk said now that it’s possible to identify with greater precision the specific needs of consumers with a likelihood of buying seafood, the industry now needs to “innovate around those needs.”

“We need to continue to strive for better understanding of how consumer needs evolve,” he said. “The trend is that the food IQ of consumers in the U.S. has certainly gone up. But so has our ability to identify and cater to those cultivated interests. In today’s world, it’s possible to figure out how to target the right consumer with the right interest. We can find people who have concerns about heart health, and tell them about how seafood is good for the heart. And we can find people who want to know about the great, bold flavor of seafood and talk to them about their interests. Those are conversations about seafood that we want to initiate, and ultimately that’s what drives sales.”

And despite sagging sales for the company's breaded and battered offerings, part of what High Liner is hearing is that people still love the classics.

“There is less demand for breaded and battered, but consumer demand for that will never go away. People love to feed their kids breaded fish and breaded chicken,” Tahnk said. “But in the future, we’ll always be asking the question, ‘how do we go bolder?’”

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