Getting people to try new things, especially expensive new things, isn’t easy. For executive chef Nora Ramos, getting Americans of all ethnic backgrounds to try dishes made from live fish is both an art and a science.
Live fish dishes today are mostly the province of Chinese restaurants where various varieties of fish swim around a tank waiting to be chosen and then are whisked into the kitchen and a waiting wok.
For Ramos, the science involves getting people to see how much tastier live fish is. As executive chef for Pacific American Fish, she also experiments with techniques. For example, she advises against broiling turbot: “It gets very tough. It should be pan fried or sautéed.”
The art involves combining flavors and appearances to interest a variety of ethnic groups to try live fish. “I’m trained in Italian and French cuisine and never was handed a live fish to cook,” Ramos said. “Western chefs are slow to embrace using live fish.”
So in addition to creating recipes, marketing is necessary to get the dishes in front of potential new customers.
Last month, Pafco invited about 200 restaurateurs and buyers for seafood markets and grocery store chains to a five-course luncheon showcasing three exotic varieties of live fish imported from Korea: olive flounder, black rockfish and turbot.
Part of the money to host the luncheon was provided by Korea Agro-Trade Center, Los Angeles, a quasi-governmental marketing agency that promotes seafood and agricultural items from South Korea.
Next year, Pafco could try some reverse marketing. The company might qualify for marketing money from the newly formed Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative to promote lobster Pafco intends to ship live into South Korea using the same tank containers that bring the Korean fin fish to the West Coast.
The Maine Legislature passed a bill in June that raises marketing and promotion money by imposing license fee surcharges on the state’s fishermen. The promotional budget for Maine lobster will rise from $350,000 a year to about $2.25 million. Because the state’s fishermen have had trying economic times lately, the idea of collecting more in license fees was controversial with some lobstermen.
The marketing doubters might want to talk to pork or beef producers. When the U.S. Meat Export Federation was formed in 1976, total red meat exports were valued at about $500 million annually, much lower than the value of imported beef and pork.
The entire USMEF budget was $185,000 that year, but exports climbed almost immediately.
John Hardin, an Iowa hog farmer who served as USMEF chairman in 1995, said he was stunned at how successful the marketing and promotional programs were. “When I attended my first USMEF meeting in 1985, pork exports were at about $100 million,” Hardin said. By 2010, they were more than $4 billion. “Very few American industries can talk about a 40-times increase in export business.”
USMEF uses its budget to conduct in-store sampling for consumers; training sessions for chefs to show them new ways to prepare beef, pork and lamb; and training sessions for customs officials and transportation subsidies to help get a product to a new market quickly.
For example, when key foreign markets lifted their embargoes on U.S. beef after the mad cow scare, the USMEF flew fresh beef to Asian markets for high-profile promotions.
This year, USMEF staffers have been working to develop new markets and to get top chefs in Shanghai even more excited about serving dishes made with U.S. pork.
“Twenty years ago — even 10 years ago — we would not have conducted U.S. pork branding awareness workshops for executive chefs from top-tier Chinese restaurants because pork was viewed as a commodity product,” said Joel Haggard, the USMEF’s senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific region. “Today, China has a developing pork brand awareness and a constantly growing number of outstanding restaurants. They are looking for the highest quality products to serve their customers.”
Contact Stephanie Nall at firstname.lastname@example.org.