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Marketing Maine Lobster: Effort Intensifies Amid Big Harvests
02/28/2014   Reported By: Jay Field

Maine's lobster catch topped 100-million pounds again last year - proof that the surging supply of the state's signature seafood shows no signs of dropping off. A shortage of markets for all that product in recent years has depressed the prices fishermen earn for their catch at the dock. But a new multi-million dollar marketing push, launched last year, aims to strenghten the Maine lobster's brand identity and get the crustacean into many more markets. Jay Field hit the Fishermen's Forum in Rockport this morning, where state officials gave an update on the effort.

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The value of Maine's lobster catch has topped out at over $300 million in recent years. But prior to this marketing overhaul, the state had been spending less than $400,000 a year to sell its most important product to the rest of the country and the world. That's right - less than $400,000 a year.

But Marianne Lacroix says funding for marketing is finally on the upswing. "It basically increases over three years. So the first year we've got $750,000. That's this year. Next year it will be $1.5 million and then the next three years it will top out at $2.25 million," she says.

Lacroix, who's acting head of the new Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, says research conducted last year basically found that consumers associate lobster with Maine, but don't really have a good idea what the words "Maine lobster" really mean.

Consultants concluded that the state hasn't done nearly enought to hype the sweet succulent taste of its lobster. And chefs, they found, really like the sweet and the succulent.

"One of the bigger activities that we're looking at this year is a partnership with the Culinary Institute of America," Lacroix says. "And by partnering with them, we have great access to working chefs at some of these top restaurants, and upscale chains that we want to target."

Over the next year, Lacroix says the marketing collaborative will use partnerships like this one - as well as social and legacy media outreach to chefs, food and beverage managers and food distrubutors - to get Maine lobster into more high-end restaurants, hotels and chain eateries nationwide.

State Sen. Troy Jackson, sitting in the audience, wondered if new customers need even more assurance about the quality of Maine lobster. "Have you thought about having certified Maine lobster licensing or stamp?" he asked.

Restaurants, Jackson says, would rush to agree to carry only "Maine certified" lobster. "And then if you did have an instance where something poor got into the country, you could say, 'Well, it's not Maine lobster. It's some of this trash that's coming from another country," he said.

Marianne Lacroix answered Jackson this way: "That's something we're defintiely looking into. Maybe some kind of optional program. But we are looking at different ways to make sure that people know a Maine lobster is a Maine lobster, whether it's a water stamp on the shell or some kind of tagging system. We're looking at the options for that."

It's called traceability - the ability, essentially, for fishermen, processors, dealers, buyers and consumers to be able to track a lobster on its journey from the sea to someone's plate. A year ago, Maine's lobster fishery received certification from the Marine Stewardship Council as a sustainable fishery.

Linda Bean says that designation moves Maine closer to a system of traceability. Bean runs Linda Bean's Perfect Maine, a lobster processing company.

"Maine did get that," she said. "It means that we are not only sustainable in our supply for every lobster that comes from state of Maine waters. But it means that they audit for traceability. That is how we prove and can use the words 'Certified Maine Lobster.'''

Bean says it's up to the dealers to pay a licensing fee to use this label. The marketing collaborative says it's looking at ways of moving the industry, as a whole, in this direction. But it says that, as of now, it has no plans to push for requiring this labeling for all lobsters that come from Maine waters.


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