Why October should scare the hell out of you

It's National Seafood Month in the US, but it's scary how few seafood companies seem to care. No more excuses. We have to fix National Seafood Month.

National Seafood Month has arrived here in the United States, and that has me wondering if this "month of fish" will ever be something more than it has been -- which is a modest, at best, marketing opportunity for the US seafood industry.

First, I say bravo to all of those folks who do put in the time and energy to craft special seafood promotions for their products and their retail stores and restaurants.

To those who do nothing during the month-long sales opportunity, I ask, why not?

I think I know the answer to that question. I believe that to fully get the most out of National Seafood Month someone or some group needs to be in charge of it -- a maestro of sorts that can get all of the various parts of the seafood supply chain marketing in harmony.

Someone who can bridge the gap between seafood producers, retailers and foodservice operators. Someone who can gin up media interest in and awareness of the wonderful world of seafood -- its variety, versatility, nutritional excellence and taste.

We need only look across the ocean to our fellow seafood marketers at Seafish in London. This industry association, coincidentally, is promoting its Seafood Week throughout the United Kingdom Oct. 7 - 14.

The consumer campaign aims to boost seafood consumption through an eight-day celebration of the industry.

Last year it was supported by more than 80 brands and companies, with Young’s, Whitby Seafoods, Yo Sushi! and Loch Fyne all signing up as partners, alongside retailers such as Morrisons, The Co-operative and Aldi.

Those companies are again on board this year, as are retailers Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and the Hilton hotel chain.

Independent analysis carried out by eftec, an environmental economics consultancy, showed that Seafood Week 2015 had an estimated benefit of between £7 million ($8.9 million/€8 million) and £18 million ($23.1 million/€20.5 million) to the industry. For every pound spent on Seafood Week 2015 by Seafish, the campaign returned an estimated benefit to the seafood industry of between £25 ($32/€29) and £64 ($82/€73) of additional retail sales.

Last year the trade organization spent  £200,000 ($255,000/€228,000) on Seafood Week, Seafish Marketing Manager Heather Middleton told me.

Seafood Week began in the United Kingdom in 2001 and ran to 2007. In 2008, it became Seafood Fortnight, but only lasted one year in the new format. Shifting priorities within Seafish forced Seafood Week into hibernation, but the marketing program was revived last year.

"Lots of the people in the industry were really, really keen for us to bring it back, which was a good sign to us. So there was momentum there, and really this year is about building on what we did last year and working up to 2017 for it to be even bigger and better,” said Middleton.

This year’s event is shaping up stronger than last year’s, she said, with more retailers coming aboard. Foodervice accounts are a bit more challenging, she said, but progress is being made.

Seafish has a designated site -- www.fishisthedish.co.uk/seafoodweek -- with a complete menu of tools businesses can use to get involved in the promotion. Its seafood tool kit, for example, includes a comprehensive plan for capitalizing on seafood week, including access to logos, posters, media information and social media hooks.

"Seafood week is really flexible in terms of what businesses can do," Middleton said. "They can get involved in social media, they can create dishes, menus and all of that.”

The UK’s Seafood Week certainly appears to benefit from having organization and someone overseeing all of the event’s moving parts.

Here in the United States, National Seafood Month doesn’t enjoy that same luxury, and this is why, in my opinion, the event remains weaker than it could be.

As Middleton explained to me, an event of this scope needs support throughout the entire seafood supply chain -- from fishermen and farmers straight through to retailers and restaurateurs -- all working together using common themes and tactics.

"It’s a really good mechanism, a really good channel, for us to get the whole industry on board," she said. "We’ve got fishermen on board, we’ve got processors on board. Right through the supply chain we have great links."

Seafish works with these folks to get others, such as retailers and foodservice accounts signed up.

"That for me is when you know something is a success -- when you are actually getting your processors to help you get your foot in the door [with retailers],” said Middleton.

So what can the US industry do to mimic the success of the UK’s efforts?

Well, it should start by inviting Middleton over for a chat to fully understand what Seafish is doing. From there, it needs to create a small infrastructure to get the ball rolling with the industry and retail and foodservice buyers.

There are already plenty of folks doing lots of Seafood Month marketing -- see them on Twitter at #nationalseafoodmonth -- so it would probably be beneficial to gather a few of them to learn from them.

It will take some money, or course. NOAA Fisheries had been giving about $250,000 (€193,500) annually to the Great American Seafood Cook-off, but stopped last year.

Maybe NOAA would like to spend that money on National Seafood Month. Heck, you could even consider moving the seafood cook-off to October as part of the celebration. The agency already promotes the benefits of National Seafood Month on Twitter and other social media.

Seafood Week is one of Seafish’s biggest consumer campaigns of the year, said Middleton.

Maybe with a little work, we can make National Seafood Month the major consumer seafood event it deserves to be.

What do you think? Send comments to john.fiorillo@intrafish.com.

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