Mollusk sales for Bellevue, Washington-based Taylor Shellfish Farms have been growing slowly but steadily in recent years, says Bill Dewey, the company’s director of public affairs.
Certain sectors are growing more quickly than others. While Dewey categorizes retail grocery performance as “stable,” foodservice growth has been what the company has primarily hung its hat on.
“A lot of our growth has occurred in oyster half shell markets, and more specifically oyster bars have grown dramatically in the last several years,” he says.
That said, Dewey is confident that that oyster bar and other foodservice growth will eventually trickle down to retail.
“There’s a lot of interest in that product, and a lot of effort by the industry to ensure consumers are more comfortable preparing shellfish at home,” he says. “Some people are intimidated by what it takes to get an oyster opened. We need to enhance that education.”
Two other popular mollusks — clams and mussels — are enjoying increased retail sales, Dewey says. Clams and mussels are fairly easy to prepare at home for most consumers, and an increase in frozen value-added products in the category make them even easier.
“We have a way to go yet, but there are definitely some efforts in that area.”
Increased attention to healthful eating and a tendency among many Americans to take a few more risks in the kitchen are among the trends driving mollusk category growth, Dewey says.
Shellfish benefit from an environmentally-friendly perception among consumers, Dewey says — whether it’s earned or not.
“People have concerns about farmed fished and their environmental impact. I’m not say that, in my opinion, it’s justified. It’s more of a perception issue.”
By contrast with farmed finfish, farmed shellfish are widely perceived, Dewey says, to actually benefit the ecosystem. “People who are concerned about the source of their seafood find confidence in farmed shellfish. Most of it is ‘green’ on the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Program, which is the top choice from a sustainability standpoint.”
Packaging versatility, food safety peace of mind
About two years ago Taylor Shellfish Farms invested in a European-made 10-chute weigh bagger, which efficiently weighs product in bags and adds tags automatically. The machine has allowed the company to do a robust business in smaller consumer bags with Costco, Dewey says.
The ability to bag its own consumer packs has been crucial to Taylor’s commitment to food safety. “Traceability is critical to shellfish,” he says. “If you have an outbreak, it needs to be able to be traced back to source. Historically, shellfish farms will sell large quantities, like a 50 pound bag of clams, then the wholesaler or the retailer will break that down into smaller lots.”
Each time that happens, someone is transferring, by hand, the record with all that traceability information to a smaller pack. Inevitably, Dewey says, errors will happen.
“By being able to pack a 2 lb or a 5 lb bag that actually makes it all the way to the retailer, you’re not relying on that transfer of information each time.”
When it comes to product diversity, foodservice has the big edge on retail, Dewey says. For instance, increasingly, oyster bars have a variety of different oysters to serve on the half shell. A lot of small producers, he says, are coming into the market with their own unique variety of oyster, much like a microbrewery with its own type of specialty ale.
That’s not the case at retail, however.
“Other than at the upper end, I don’t necessarily see that trend in grocery,” Dewey says. “More often than not, I see one kind of oyster in the seafood case.”
Scallops for sashimi and white tablecloth
Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia-based Fisher King’s premium line of Canadian scallops includes offshore frozen-at-sea and inshore production. Fisher King scallops are ideal for both sashimi and white tablecloth applications, according to the company.
“We accurately grade for uniformity, low piece count and individually quick freeze for optimum consistency. For stable price, supply and quality, sweet tasting Fisher King scallops are the natural choice.”
New for Fisher King is a program with its supplier partner, Tokyo-based Nichirei, that provides a full range of sizes of Japanese scallops to offer year-round to its customers in North America.
“These very high-quality Japanese scallops are suitable for sashimi, sushi, soups and more,” according to Fisher King.
Eco-friendly bona fides
Originating from New Zealand’s pristine coastal waters, mussels imported and marketed in the U.S. by New York-based Mark Foods Inc. have a visually stunning iridescent green shell, a mild flavor, and a higher meat-to-shell ratio than any other product in the category, according to the company. Rope cultivated, they’re sand and grit free and never contain additives.
The International Conservation Organization Blue Ocean Institute ranks New Zealand Greenshell™ Mussels as one of the top two “eco-friendly seafoods” in the world.
Variety makes the difference
Depending upon the season, Atlanta-based Inland Seafood offers a variety of clams from the East Coast, West Coast, Gulf of Mexico and other locations around the world.
“It's easy to substitute clams for other protein foods in stir-fry dishes, salads, soups, and pasta recipes,” according to the company.
Inland Seafood’s clam offerings include middlenecks, cherrystones, littlenecks, manilas, razors, shucked steamers, topnecks and many others and are packed in 50 count bags, 10 lb cases or bags, 10x1 lb cases and a variety of other packs.