I thought that I would post something about what my first year in the Seafood Industry was like.
This past year I have met a lot of great people.... As well, I have met a few not so great people. I guess that was to be expected. Overall, I have met some very careful buyers, learned quickly about our fickle ocean, dealt with some very high prices; but most of all I created some great relationships.
When I mentioned careful buyers, I meant that it seems that our industry has a low level of trust. In other industries I have worked in, building credibility was a little easier. I get the sense that a lot of people have gotten burned, either will poor quality or slow payment. This was tough because, when I am challenged on my integrity I get a little defensive. I and Partner Seafood has built a brand on the highest quality and commitment to our customers: I intend to keep it that way.
Also, this year I learned quickly how a low yield of our oceans harvest can seriously slow sales and raise prices. Specifically, but not exclusively in the snow crab category. A perfect storm hit the category, lower quotas from the US, a crack down on illegal catches in the pacific and a 5 year gradual build on demand. Last year Canada broke a record with imports to the US due to the Alaskan quota reduction, but it also broke records on prices. Typically in the middle of the season prices drop or normalize after the supply builds, but this year they just continued to rise and never wavered. Being on the front line and seeing it unfold from the fisheries side, I tried to inform my clients that the prices would not come down and to buy early; but everyone was being cautious. So, the result was slow movement of product and a shift to other species. Buffets, in which snow crab was a stable started disappearing from their menus and the retail sector recoiled by reducing promotion of the product. A very quick lesson for me on seafood's commodity markets and how they react. This year there is a promise of increased bio-masses in our region, but with Alaska keeping their quota at the same level as 2016, who knows where the price will land this April. All I can say is work with us or your supplier to set up a good program if you can't do without snow crab in 2017; but I think you got that if you are a buyer.
The last thing that was a highlight in my first year in seafood, was the ability to build great relationships. I was concerned that working with professional buyers, that relationships would be very difficult to create (as I mentioned in my first post about the Boston seafood show). I have been able to build trust and reliability with many customers and look forward to creating more and building on the ones that I made in 2016.
Partner Seafood is heading into our 10th year in the business. I look forward to the 2017 season and continuing to learn along the way.
Ever since I have been with Partner Seafood, I have been fascinated with every species that comes in our cold storage. I essentially beg for a case or part of a case to take home and cook up. It doesn't matter what it is.
However, I have also become obsessed with little fish: sardines, herring and capelin. I feel like they are humble fish that don't get the praise they deserve. Bottom of the food chain, but small fish are part of a rich history of feeding the masses, since the beginning of time. They are also packed with protein and because they are so low on the chain, they are low in mercury that has permeated larger species.
So, Capelin Season! This weekend I decided to engage my inner Newfoundlander and take some capelin to the cottage to smoke in my new Swedish Fish Smoker(that is another story for later). On Saturday my neighbor, just getting back from fishing, had a few herring and mackerel fillets to help feed the smoker or further my obsession with small fish.
Now, I have heard of the Capelin harvest in Newfoundland. I have seen the pictures and videos, of them just rolling into shore; people by the buckets scooping them up. For some reason the little fish we work with tends to find themselves off the continent... Never to reach the rest of maritimers plates. Female capelin, especially(full of tasty roe). So, as soon as the first load hit the floor, I took a box of female capelin to "inspect" and make sure it was good enough for our customers.
I looked up a recipe online, but I thought it would be best to just put some pepper on them and let them smoke naturally. The roe in the females it usually very salty, so just pepper and cherry wood smoke. The result was amazing. The herring and mackerel were good, but the little caplelin stole the show. The fish were delicate and tasty without any other augmentation. My neighbor, who brought me the other fish to smoke, had his family down to the cottage; so I thought I would bring some capelin over for them to try. They truly loved them and asked me what they were and where they came from. They all grew up here in New Brunswick and they never tasted capelin, a fish from a couple provinces over(granted Newfoundland is a long way away). Either way, they loved the fish and the story that was behind it. I would assume they would buy them as well, if they were available.
This humble capelin is certainly one of the more underrated fish in the sea. I can't seem to figure out why Canada or the US doesn't embrace this fish more. I would much rather prepare a meal for friends and family with this fish than a tilapia or pangasius.
Having not grown up in Newfoundland or the Canadian Maritime Provinces for that matter, I was never exposed to a lot of the fish we sell from our shores. However, I did grow up on the east coast of Florida and know the feeling and taste of something local or caught in nearby waters. I understand that capelin are a humble, high protein, inexpensive fish; but it certainly deserves our respect as much as any white fish caught in our waters and should be in markets and restaurants up and down the east coast.
Having said all of that. I guess I better get selling that capelin to y'all.
Thanks for listening and ask for capelin by name. Your local fishmonger will find a place to buy the Newfoundland staple and delicacy. At least now you know one place they can buy them.
I like to call this demystifying the seasons, but it should be, "what do you mean you don't have any?" We often get calls from customers for products, when they know very well it is not available. An industry colleague, long in the tooth once told me, "People always want what we can't get." Well, maybe we can help.
One of the ways we can help is talk to me.... I love clients that talk to me about business needs; it is the best way for me to help. If I understand the way their business sells and the timing; I can input their needs in our system and contact them when product is about to become available. However, most buyers are not that forthcoming. So, they call me way too late and are surprised that the prices are so high or the product is not available. The exceptions are products that are available throughout the year, but we are not talking about those in this post; let's stick to the seasonal stuff.
When you should be calling us?
The best time to call me and start talking about your needs, volumes and budget is prior to that product's season. Depending on the product and the demand, it might not be best to buy prior to or at the start of the season; but getting us to go to bat for you at that time is key. Partner Seafood tries to have product on hand as per our customers' needs; but sometimes demand is high and products sell quickly.
So, here below is a chart that might help understand the seasons and provide some guidance as to when to call and discuss your business needs. The chart depicts the harvest season and the time of the year that it is typically available. See where the white part meets the darkest color? That is when I should be getting a call.
As a good partner we will make sure that we have what you need when you need it and secure the best pricing possible. If you want a PDF version for your printing pleasure, email me and I will send it along.
The Seafood Industry is certainly unique. In my 20+ years of sales & marketing I have never witnessed an industry so guarded - so cut throat. Yet we are going to let it all out in Boston. At the Seafood Expo, suppliers will be putting their best foot forward, showcasing their products and wining & dining customers and prospects. At the same time, we will be looking over our shoulders making sure a competitor is not insight when doing anything. It is a reality at most industry trade shows, but some reason I feel our industry is a little more intense. For my first blog post for Partner Seafood, I wanted to share my initial views of marketing/selling in our industry and then talk about some learning, that I hope I can take away from upcoming show in Boston.
So here we go.
I only say more intense because it would seem that buying and selling in our industry seems so different than others I have experienced. Maybe it is because we are not really manufacturing anything, my Scombrus is the same as his Scombrus and the only difference is... Well, there might not be a difference. That alone makes it challenging. Coming from the machine industry and then to a service industry then to finally land in a commodity based industry; it is a polarizing experience.
I remember my first meeting, and I mentioned to the buyer, "what do you need to make, margin-wise? I ask because I can adjust my pricing to meet your needs the best I can." I was met with one of the strangest looks I had ever received in business. He told me I was crazy for asking his margin and that if I ever did that with large companies, they would throw me out the door. I was only doing what I knew. Cost + Margin = Price. If there was a dealer in the middle, adjust margin to set a price the market will bear. Now, if you have been in this industry more that 3 days, you see the humor in that. The real equation is: Market price(plus or minus the price people are actually buying at) = Who knows what.
From what I can tell, seafood is forever a buyers market. Suppliers send price lists, that they may never buy from but rather use as a price checker. Now buyers are raising their eyebrow and thinking, "this guy is nuts."
Here is how I have always seen sales and competition. You can break up accounts/transactions into two categories: a "Young Relationship" and a "Mature Relationship." A young relationship is like a first date, information does not flow well, there is constant need for assurance that the product is what you say it is... then pictures, labels, more pictures, samples, etc. The risk is not shared in a young relationship, it is solely on the one party and perhaps rightly so, things are uncertain. In a mature relationship buyers and sellers openly exchange information, after few orders, things are much easier and the risk is shared. If there is problem with an order is just less intense or shrugged off and placed in the "stuff happens" file.
Common sense right? I am not telling you anything new. The real mystery is how to get there quickly and stay there. Because when a relationship is mature, competition is less of an issue, and price becomes more negotiable and usually benefits both.
Which leads me to the learning that I hope to take away from Boston/SENA 2016. Are these mature relationships possible in a highly market-price driven realm? I believe they are, and I hope in Boston I can start building them.
I have been saying it since I have been in the industry, Price and Quality are a given, we shouldn't even be talking if it isn't. Here is what I really want to walk away with... How will a supplier, like Partner Seafood make buying easier? How will we make having product on hand easier? How can we assist in the win/win situation? Ultimately, how will we get more seafood on more plates?
I sincerely look forward to meeting face to face, the people that I have been conversing and selling to on the phone and meet new people that are interested in the way we do our business and our product, not the other way around. Some will say that I am a fool, let's revisit that at SENA 2017.
Travel safe to any show you are attending or exhibiting and good luck in 2016 and see you in Boston.
Nick Fanelli is the Sales & Marketing Manager @ Partner Seafood. His experience, in a number of fields has allowed him to change the way things are done here.