Maine lobster industry to boost marketing

PORTLAND, Maine — California has its raisins, Florida its oranges and Vermont has maple syrup. Now, Maine’s lobster industry is trying to market its brand more broadly and increase sales of the state’s best-known seafood.

The annual marketing budget for lobsters will increase more than six-fold to $2.2 million under a law taking effect in October, launching what some call a new era for the industry. The goal is to get more people in the U.S. and abroad to buy more Maine lobster and related products at restaurants and in stores, while increasing prices to help fishermen boost their incomes.

Marketing was little more than an afterthought in the lobster industry before the 1990s, when the annual catch was typically 20 million pounds or less. That changed in 1991 with the creation of the industry-funded Maine Lobster Promotion Council, a small operation whose budget this past year was around $370,000.

But the lobster harvest has ballooned to previously unimagined levels — a record 127 million pounds was hauled in Maine last year— and prices have remained low since tanking when the global economy went sour in 2008. Fishermen received $2.69 a pound on average for their catch last year, a nearly 40 percent drop since 2007 and the lowest price since 1994. So lobstermen for the most part agree that the industry needs to somehow better market its product.

“If this thing works right,” said John Sauve, whose Portland marketing firm was hired to guide the process, “the headlines will go from there being a glut of supply to a glut of demand.”

Maine is already well-known for its lobsters. Still, the industry might have some inherent hurdles to overcome to increase sales, said Mark Lang, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. People don’t usually think “lobster” when asking themselves what they should fix for dinner, he said. They also perceive it to be expensive and hard to prepare.

But there are plenty of positive associations with Maine lobsters, such as cold ocean waters, the nostalgia of how it’s caught and it being an American product, he said.

“There are a lot of nice connotations attached to lobster, so they’re in a good starting place,” he said. “They’re not trying to fix something that’s bad.”

There are dozens of marketing initiatives nationwide for food products as diverse as raisins, cranberries, milk, beef, pork and citrus.

The key to a successful marketing campaign is to show how a product differs from others in a way that’s important to customers, Lang said. That difference might be its flavor, how it can be prepared or its sustainability.

“It gives the customer a reason why to select a product over alternatives,” he said.

For Maine’s campaign, an 11-member board will create a three-year marketing plan with a detailed plan and budget in the coming months, said Sauve, managing director of the Food and Wellness Group marketing firm in Portland. By law, the plan has to be presented to the Legislature in January.

The board, called the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, replaces the smaller council. It will be funded through increases in license fees for fishermen and lobster dealers and processors. Its budget is projected to be $750,000 for the current fiscal year, $1.5 million next year and $2.2 million after that.

The members of the collaborative — four lobstermen, three lobster wholesalers and dealers, two members of the public, and state agency representatives — will devise strategies and tactics with Sauve’s help on marketing lobsters to consumers, restaurants and retailers.

The campaign is long overdue, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

The Maine lobster competes with a lot of other foods, including the same lobster species that’s caught in Canada and spiny lobsters from the Caribbean and other warm-water locations, she said. Like Maine’s harvest, Canada’s lobster catch has also surged in recent years.

“You compete lobster to lobster. You compete lobster to seafood,” she said. “As you go down the food chain, you compete against other proteins.”

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

David Simpson (left) and Scott Murphy.
Port of Everett candidates spar over transparency

An incumbent, David Simpson, is challenged by Everett City Councilmember Scott Murphy.

Rendering of the new terminal that Propeller Airports plans to build at Paine Field in Everett. The terminal, which will serve the general aviation community, will replace Castle & Cooke Aviation's existing building at the Snohomish County-owned airport. (Propeller Airports LLC)
Propeller Airports to acquire Castle & Cooke at Paine Field

Propeller, which owns the nearby passenger terminal, plans a new complex for private aviation.

FILE - In this May 26, 2020, file photo, a sign at the headquarters for the Washington state Employment Security Department is shown at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington state's rush to get unemployment benefits to residents who lost jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak left it vulnerable to criminals who made off with hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Washington’s unemployment rate in September was 4.9%

Employers added 17,600 jobs last month, a 7.3% increase over August.

With the Olympic mountains in the background, the first passenger flight by Alaska Airlines Flight 2878 departs for Portland on opening day of the Paine Field Terminal on Monday, March 4, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Alaska Airlines stalls plan for extra flights in Everett

Business has been sluggish, but the airline says it will offer 12 flights a day at Paine Field in the new year.

Hillside homes in Mukilteo are seen from the ferry line on Oct. 20. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
Mukilteo asks for input on housing density, and it’s complicated

Here’s a guide to what voters should know about the advisory ballot measure. What does it actually do?

People hold signs in protest of the vaccine mandate after Boeing announced it would terminate workers who do not comply on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Some Boeing workers protest in Everett over vaccine mandate

The Boeing Company announced earlier this week that its workers must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
Former Boeing test pilot pleads not guilty in 737 Max case

He’s the first person to be charged with a crime in connection with the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes.

FILE - In this March 14, 2019 file photo, Ethiopian relatives of crash victims mourn at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia. Relatives of some of the passengers who died in the crash will mark the two-year anniversary of the disaster on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, by seeking a reversal of government orders that let Boeing 737 Max jets fly again.  (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)
Boeing pilot involved in Max testing is indicted in Texas

He’s accused of giving the FAA false information about systems that played a role in two deadly crashes.

Top (L-R): Kim Daughtry, Steve Ewing. Bottom (L-R): Gary Petershagen, Marcus Tageant.
Developers court Lake Stevens council incumbents with over $20K

Over half of the campaign dollars for four candidates came from people tied to real estate or property development.

Traffic drives in view of a massive Boeing Co. production plant, where images of jets decorate the hangar doors, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Everett, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Boeing says workers must get the COVID vaccine by Dec. 8

“Compliance with these requirements is a condition of employment,” says an internal company presentation.

The Boeing 737 Max 10 airplane landing at Boeing Field in Seattle on June 18. (Chona Kasinger / Bloomberg)
Boeing ramps up 737 Max but 787 deliveries are still blocked

Boeing last month maintained its steady trickle of sales as it navigates the aviation downturn.

A handful of Northwest Union Carpenter members picket in front of the new Marysville civic center construction site on the sixth day of a region wide union carpenter strike on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Carpenters strike ends with new contract and a $10 raise

Roughly 500 union members were working on projects in Snohomish County. It was among the largest strikes in 18 years.