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Duncan Berry, one of the founders of Portland, Ore.,-based Fishpeople, is on a mission to help change the seafood industry with the help of Wal-Mart Stores. The mission also is supporting 65 jobs in the small coastal city.
Fishpeople has joined with Walmart U.S. to develop a line of flash frozen fish entrees caught in the Pacific Northwest and processed in Oregon. Berry told Talk Business & Politics his small company is geared to help consumers better connect with the seafood they eat.
Berry said he knew Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon from a prior life of his as an apparel supplier.
“I have done business with Wal-Mart before Fishpeople and was named supplier of the year at one point, so I knew my way around the company. I have known Doug for several years and back in 2014 I approached him about what we were trying to accomplish at Fishpeople,” Berry said.
The company’s main agenda is to provide sustainable fresh seafood, processed in the U.S. with full transparency back to the boat captain and crew who reeled in the catch.
“This seafood industry is a mess. … Presently 90% of seafood caught in the Pacific Northwest is exported to Asia for processing. That means 90% of the seafood sold today in the U.S. is imported. We sought to process our daily catch locally to support more U.S. jobs and grow the economy in our coastal community,” Berry said.
In the summer of 2014, Berry pitched the idea to Wal-Mart buyers who got the ball rolling on the retail end. Berry said all of the product sold in Walmart is flash frozen and vacuum packed in individual servings.
Catherine Johnson, the senior buyer who works with Fishpeople, said there is myth around frozen fish. She said the Fishpeople catch their daily quota, ice it down in boxes and it’s trucked a few miles inland to the processing plant in Toledo. At the most, Johnson said the fish are 48 hours removed from the sea when they are processed. This compares to 10 days if the fish have been processed overseas. In many cases she the frozen Fishpeople fish is fresher than fresh fish that has to be shipped inland.
Fishpeople sells shelf-stable fish products to retailers such as Whole Foods and Kroger, but the frozen varieties were a first with Walmart. Berry said the frozen food made it into about 3,000 Walmart Stores in September 2015 after about a year of working through the supply chain logistics from the fisherman to retail stocker.
Johnson said when McMillon passed the idea down the chain to buyers, she knew the Fishpeople concept of offering complete food transparency would resonate well with Walmart shoppers. Berry said that has always been the mission of Fishpeople since its inception. He said the company pulls back the curtain on every product that bears its label so consumers may see how and where the food was handled throughout the supply chain.
Berry and Johnson said seafood can be an intimidating food category for the average household cook. He said there are fears and worries associated with toxins, additives and handling of seafood given that 90% of it is imported. Johnson said on the preparation side there are also concerns about how to season and prepare fish that compares with restaurant quality. And fish such as salmon and albacore tuna are also a more expensive meal than other protein sources. And, it can smell up the house. Berry said one bad experience cooking fish and many consumers won’t try it again.
Working with a variety of chefs, Berry said Fishpeople came up with key flavor enhancements that also have ingredient traceability back to the farmer. This added flavor variety is suited for the novice cook who wants to eat fish that has a full transparency record back to day it was caught. For the more experienced cook, the company offers a non-flavored variety of the same fishes and traceable packaging.
The transparency the company provides in the packaging includes a photo and short bio of the boat captain and a tracking number that can typed into the company’s website for the origin of every ingredient used in the processing such as the farmer who grew the garlic or other marinade ingredients.
“We want our shoppers to be able to enjoy restaurant quality fish selections and the Fishpeople products are the ones I am most proud to represent,” Johnson said.
One other important factor to Berry and his Fishpeople crew is they only fish for those species abundant and sustainable in nature. The sustainability issue was also important to Walmart, Johnson said.
“I want my children and their children to be able to enjoy the same fish we have today,” Berry said. “The world doesn’t need another seafood company, it needs a different kind of company that buys sustainable fish. You as a consumer should also demand transparency.”
Berry said Fishpeople will continue in 2016 to the work to bring more varieties of their sustainable, traceable fish products to Walmart and other retailers across the country and hope more fish companies follow upstream.