Maine Seafood Marketing Initiative

Creating sustainable markets for Maine products across the U.S.

Why the Maine Seafood Marketing Initiative?

In a September 2018 unpublished report conducted by Janine Bisaillon-Cary of the Montserrat Group (under contract to FocusMaine) a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) Analysis was conducted to assess attracting new aquaculture businesses to Maine. Nearly all stakeholders interviewed indicated that the lack of a seafood marketing group that promoted all Maine products was a “weakness” to development and growth. While such an entity exists supporting the marketing of “Maine lobster” and many of our seafood-producing neighbors have state-funded seafood marketing programs, Maine has no such marketing entity to help expand markets beyond this region and promote all of our seafood species and products domestically.

Recognizing this gap, Maine Seafood Marketing Initiative aims to stimulate market development by championing the development of a promotional council, which utilizes experts to explore target markets and represent industry with the intent of introducing buyers to products while expanding awareness within unexplored domestic markets for wild, value-add and farmed Maine seafood.  Supporting existing fisheries will help maintain our shrinking working waterfronts, stimulate fisheries diversity from a reliance on a single species for economic opportunity and help leverage and expand our growing aquaculture industry.

Given that approximately 90% of the seafood consumed in the US is imported, we believe that sustainable, premium seafood from Maine remains an undervalued and undermarketed commodity nationwide among consumers and buyers looking for traceable, sustainable, best quality seafood.

The MSMI Pilot Program Results

With additional funding provided by the Maine Technology Institute, CEI has completed Pilot Program research. The Pilot Project was the first step in developing a “turn-key” model to implement a “Maine Seafood Marketing Council” designed to forge institutional economic partnerships and focus the many economic and training resources in our state to help members access underutilized domestic target markets outside of our immediate New England region.

Survey of Maine’s Seafood Industry

MSMI researched Maine’s seafood assets and identified those companies/producers with products that are sustainable and have opportunity to grow nationally. We conducted a survey of Maine’s seafood/aquaculture companies to gauge interest in regional/national market development activities as well as to identify their market interests and gaps. 77% of respondents indicated over 50% of their sales come from out of state. When asked if they would advocate for a Maine Seafood Marketing Association, 100% of responders answered yes; the majority (64%) said they would actively participate “with an affordable dues structure”.

Best Market Prospects Overview

By researching market trends and data relevant to North Atlantic seafood industry sector, we were able to validate which markets and related activities have best prospects for Maine products. Reaching out to strategic partners such as the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs to leverage their market information and discuss potential for coordinated activities, we produced a report “Best Domestic Prospects for Maine Seafood,” with the following topline results.

Bestselling Species/Products

  1. Maine Lobster;
  2. Groundfish/Finfish (includes Atlantic Salmon);
  3. Mussels;
  4. Scallops; and
  5. Oysters.

Research included the evaluation of sales of these species in the domestic Retail and domestic Broadline Food Services marketplaces.

Top US Regions by Overall Market Potential (outside of New England)

  1. Pacific/Mountain;
  2. The Mid-Atlantic; and
  3. South Atlantic.

We believe that the extensive information collected by this MSMI Pilot Program provides us with an unprecedented roadmap of where to focus Maine seafood market development efforts going forward – identifying robust markets where there is most potential for (outside Maine) export sales for key species, in the Maine seafood and aquaculture sector.

Data of Domestic Broadline Sales/Region for Key Maine Seafood Species

There is a large network of wholesale and distribution businesses in the U.S. that purchase seafood products from a variety of different sources, store them, assemble the items into orders for customers, and deliver them. CEI (with generous additional funding from FocusMaine) obtained data purchases from NPD Group – the premier data tracker for the foodservice/HRI sector (Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional) – specifically for the key best-selling Maine seafood species previously identified. This Data allows our industry to identify species product sales not just regionally, but by “Best Direct Market Areas” – specific metropolitan areas where Food Service sales were highest prior to the COVID pandemic.

We believe that the data and analysis for the targeted Maine species on a region–by -region basis, highlighted in the “Best Market Prospects Report”, is the most complete market overview that has ever been executed to date, and across such a range of key Maine seafood species. It is our intent that industry will utilize this data to develop deeper sales outside of Maine/New England and have a competitive advantage within the larger domestic seafood industry.

The data from these reports is proprietary and intended to benefit Maine’s Seafood Industry ONLY. Businesses located and operating in Maine may receive a copy of these reports via the following form.

MSMI Data Request

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Market Development Plan

The MSMI Team undertook researching the best practices of like Seafood/Food Trade Associations in other coastal states using a survey and direct outreach. Of the 24 Seafood Promotional Council groups that were sent surveys, the project team was able to collect results from 8 of the domestic organizations and interviewed the head of the Norwegian Seafood Council in the U.S. 

Survey results indicate that most seafood associations focus on marketing and coordinating events/trade shows.  Other successful outreach activities include executing B2B matchmaking events and providing Seafood Buyers Guides for consumers and wholesalers.  Fifty percent of organizations interviewed focus primarily on consumers and 25% on wholesale buyers and distributors.  All the associations indicated that they participate in events and trade shows as a mechanism for industry outreach (100%) and the majority coordinate social media campaigns (87.5%), advertisements (75%) and focus on digital marketing.  Success is primarily measured through increased state seafood industry sales by volume and dollars; and measuring responses to social media campaigns.

Results from this report helped to influence our final Business Modeling to make recommendations as to what an inclusive Maine Seafood Marketing Association would look like. Final Report is proprietary to CEI and select shareholders.

Business Model for Early-Stage Execution of Maine Seafood Promotional Organization

The entire premise of the MSMI Pilot was to ultimately demonstrate the necessity for Maine to have a dedicated seafood marketing entity inclusive of all seafood products – and to develop an informed model for a turnkey prototype organization akin to other “Seafood Promotional Councils” found in most coastal American states.  Capitalizing on both the initial “Maine Seafood Industry Survey” whereby the Team received tremendous support to proceed, we also conducted the aforementioned “Seafood Promotional Organizations Survey” with the intent of capturing “best practices” (staffing, budgets, etc.) from like promotional councils.

Utilizing these data sets, the MSMI Team was able to design an early-stage Business Model, complete with staffing, governance, services, and annual budget recommendations. We are currently exploring identification of interested sponsors and funding opportunities in the public and private sectors. Final Report is proprietary to CEI and select shareholders.

Impact & Next Steps

We believe that by establishing the MSMI, the economic impact over time will benefit Maine’s coastal fishing communities and businesses. Success metrics are direct and measurable.  We believe the establishment of a sustainable, service-based Maine Seafood Marketing Initiative whose B2B focus will:

Next Steps

CEI is continuing to seek funding to advance this project into a “Phase 2 Prototype” initiative that will build upon the Pilot Business Model and further mature the Initiative into a turn-key, functional non-profit Maine Seafood Marketing Association entity.