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Guest Column: MLMC plan includes product innovation, brand protection

Given the uncertainties about market conditions this year, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) adopted a flexible marketing plan that we were able to adapt throughout the year as circumstances and needs changed. Below is a summary of several key tactical programs we executed to keep Maine lobster top of mind with consumers and to protect the brand.

Product Innovation

Lobster Butter is a new product just for lobster. MLMC photo

To grow demand among food manufacturers and grocery stores, MLMC launched an initiative to develop new ways to use Maine lobster in consumer products. The first step was research into consumer trends and grocery store capabilities. Data showed that Maine lobster is a much-loved protein that people would purchase more often if it were available in more product formats. Consumers said they would even be willing to pay more for products containing Maine lobster. With seafood sales at an all-time high in grocery stores, it is an ideal time to develop new consumer-friendly retail products. As part of this initiative, MLMC partnered with East Coast Seafood to create a lobster butter. Released around National Lobster Day in September, MLMC used the unique new product to generate coverage in consumer media outlets including Food Network, USA Today and Guilty Eats to name a few. The MLMC also partnered with product development company Culinex to develop new Maine lobster product concepts based on consumer trends that we uncovered in our research, like an increased interest in breakfast and a desire to eat local. The result is nine product platforms such as “Made in America,” which features Maine lobster incorporated into classic American dishes like Lobster French Fries (lobster mixed with mashed potato, shaped and fried), Lobster Hush Puppies and Lobster Johnny Cakes. Other concepts include “Elevated Breakfasts” with products like Lobster Cream Cheese, Breaking Bread with Maine Lobster Biscuits, Maine Lobster Baos, Surprising Soups and Succulent Sausages. Each concept includes at least three new products. We are also promoting product innovation to retailers and food manufacturers this fall through targeted webinars with Seafood Source and Food Business News, as well as digital advertising and social media. Of course, all research and product concepts are available to Maine dealers and processors to use and produce. As we continue to promote Maine lobster product innovation, we encourage all Maine lobster processers to share their new products with MLMC so that we can include them in future promotions.

Brand Management

Regarding North Atlantic right whales, it’s been an active year, with the release of the Biological Opinion and the new whale regulations. The MLMC has taken a multi-tiered approach to ensuring that the fishery’s perspective is communicated to the public. In the spring, we conducted consumer research to gauge both awareness of and responses to different messages around the issue. We learned that people responded best to positive messages about all the steps Maine fishermen have already taken to protect whales, rather than directly confronting the claims of groups calling for more restrictions. That insight has guided our communications. We have an ongoing social media campaign that highlights efforts to protect whales and sustainability in general. We directed reporters covering the issue to fishermen that the MLMC has trained specifically to handle this topic. The MLMC also used two paid media opportunities scheduled to hit when media would already be covering the issue — after the release of the Biological Opinion in the spring and after the release of the new whale regulations in September. The first was a satellite media tour, which is a controlled TV/radio interview segment that is pitched to local stations. It appears alongside regular news content, but is highly controlled with pre-selected questions, messaging and spokesmen. Lobsterman Chris Welch conducted an unprecedented 23 remote interviews in a single day resulting in broadcasts in 18 media markets and on three national stations; we also reached an additional 330 markets through our video and audio news release. To promote the Maine lobstermen’s perspective in the fall, we wrote an ‘advertorial’ (a paid placement that looks like a regular news article) in Fast Company magazine; we will drive additional views through digital advertising and social media promotions.

Maine Activities

Every year, the MLMC participates in activities that help to promote lobster here in Maine. This year, we partnered with the organizers of Maine Restaurant Week to create the first-ever Maine Lobster Week. Culminating on National Lobster Day on September 25, Maine Lobster Week helps to drive traffic to Maine restaurants and online shippers. Plus, it gives locals and tourists alike a chance to show their love and support for an important Maine industry. Although this is an incredibly difficult year for restaurants, we were pleased to have over 40 restaurants participating in the event, as well as eight online shippers. The MLMC is also partnering with the Global Culinary Innovators Association to provide its chain restaurant menu developers with an immersion tour of the Maine lobster industry in October. The group will learn about sustainable fishing methods on a lobster boat and about supply chain logistics through touring live and processing facilities. We’re working with local chefs to make sure that the group tastes a variety of unique lobster dishes as part of their tour.

Marianne LaCroix is the executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. More information can be found at www.lobsterfrommaine.com

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