The National Seafood Council Task Force made a crowd-pleasing plea to a packed conference room at Boston’s Seafood Expo North America on Monday afternoon — JOIN US!
Task force members on the panel and throughout the room coalesced around a single priority: to secure $25 million per year for five years in federal funds to be used to promote seafood. But to get there, they need industry signatures for the cause.
“We risk losing seafood consumers if we are not unified in our voice and telling our truth and celebrating all that seafood has to offer,” said panelist Jason Driskill, vice president of the Seafood division for Texas-based retailer H-E-B. “We are united in this critical mission to support a healthier America.”
“Other commodity campaigns like milk, beef, eggs, avocados have millions a year to market their product,” said Linda Lai Cornish, president of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership and host of the conference session. “Avocados have gone from 1 pound per person per year to 8 pounds.”
Although average domestic seafood consumption hit a record high of 19.2 pounds per person per year in 2019 — and Datassential research shows an increased interest in seafood consumption for the health benefits since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 — that number is still paltry in comparison to other animal proteins.
“Americans right now are consuming about 97 pounds of poultry per capita per year and 59 pounds of beef,” said panelist Joe Rosenberg, COO of Central Seaway Co., a seafood importer.
The mission of the national seafood marketing campaign would be to increase seafood consumption by focusing on its health benefits, which Cornish pointed out is something all stakeholders can agree on without causing strife among different user groups.
“We need to focus on the consumer who is looking for protein that is healthy for them and can suit their needs to have a climate friendly diet,” said Cornish. “Seafood fulfills those.”
One critical factor is updating scientific data with new information about seafood to counteract lingering misinformation about the safety of seafood consumption, specifically during pregnancy and in early childhood.
“When SNP researchers — joined by other researchers — looked at the relationship between seafood consumption and pregnancy and neurocognitive development, we see almost nothing but positive effects,” according to Dr. Tom Brenna, chairman of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership Scientific & Nutrition Advisory Council and professor at University of Texas-Austin, where he studies infant neurological development.
In fact, seafood is “one of the few foods that delivers the kind of omega 3s that our brain is made of,” Brenna added. “Consumption sees positive benefits to 10 times the consumption of what we see in the states.”
Other task force members pointed out that supporting this initiative is a win for the entire industry because the increase of seafood sales and consumption benefits all stakeholders.
“It's not going to make you larger or gain a part of the pie,” said Jim Motos, senior vice president of the Consumer Brands Division of Rich Products Corp. “But your piece of the pie is going to grow because consumption is going to increase.”
The broad-based approach is a significant opportunity to smaller businesses and independent fishermen, who rarely have the resources to tap into a national campaign.
“This campaign will also provide an avenue for those smaller places — the commercial fishermen, the smaller seafood businesses — to lend their story and tell the consumer where their seafood comes from,” said Leann Bosarge, head of New Business Development and Project Management at Bosarge Boats, based in Pascagoula, Miss.
Many stakeholders attending the conference session agreed that there is no better time to act than right now, as the fishing and seafood industries have been highlighted as critical to the domestic food supply during the supply-chain shutdowns and slowdowns of the pandemic.
“Seafood is getting the attention it deserves. It’s having a moment. We should make sure it's long-lasting,” said Brett Veerhusen, founder of Ocean Strategies, a fisheries and marine resources consulting firm.
The National Seafood Council Task Force is composed of industry leaders collaborating to establish the National Seafood Council and conduct a National Seafood Marketing Campaign. The Seafood Nutrition Partnership is serving as the convening organization.