“Every food category has seen some sort of revolution to make it healthier, more transparent, to bring consumers closer to the source of their food. Except Seafood,” Plasse told FoodNavigator-USA. “It feels like seafood is the last category to change, and yet it is one of the best sources of protein on the planet.”
He explained that the seafood industry has a “devastating lack of transparency,” “very little innovation, and a lot of really poor consumer practices,” that have made it “so a lot of consumers don’t trust the industry, and frankly, in many cases, that is for good reason.”
Fishpeople, which launched in 2012, wants to change this by approaching the industry from the consumers’ perspective and building backwards to create a product that is approachable and a supply chain that is transparent, Plasse said.
“In order to change our relationship with the sea, we need to change the way people think about their seafood. And to do that we need to tell a story that matters, including where seafood comes form, how it is processed, how it is handled and how that translates into incredible flavor and nutritional differences,” Plasse said, comparing good seafood to high quality chocolate, tea or wine, which all varies based on where it is sourced.
Fishpeople is addressing this “conundrum” by cutting out the middlemen and sourcing their fish directly from small-scale fishers that use sustainable methods to catch wild fish, Plasse said.
“We built Fishpeople on the understanding that what the consumer deserves and wants is what is better for our Earth. And what that means for us is all of our fish are not only sustainable but they are pure,” Plasse said. He explained, “We don’t add any chemicals or additives. There is an industry practices of using trisodium phosphate for water weight and other chemicals, but we add no chemicals.”
Fishpeople also varies from some of the competition by handling their fish with “meticulous care so that by the time it gets to the consumer is not bruised and it is the highest quality that you can get,” Plasese said.
For example, he compared the albacore tuna that Fishpeople sells to that of some of its competitors. While other companies might can tuna and settle for fish that has been stuffed into large ship holds with little ice because they knew they would cook it twice, Fishpeople prefers line-caught albacore that is flash frozen at the sea and individually packed so that it is minimally processed by the time consumers buy it.
“These are like two completely different fish,” he said. “That story, consumers deserve to know about all their fish and appreciate that. So, we have built a company that enables us to tell that truly authentic and transparent sty from a consumer first perspective.”
Connecting with consumers
The company tells this story to consumers in several ways. First, it created a portal on its webpage that allows consumers to easily trace their products back to their beginning with a code printed on each package, Plasse said.
When consumers enter the code, “essentially what you see is the story behind your fish. So, the boat it was caught from, the captain, the processing methods, the fishery it came from, the sustainability principles and, depending on the captain and how confident they are and how much they want to share, all kinds of other fascinating stories about their boats and such,” Plasse said.
Fishpeople also tells this story through social media, which allows consumers to interact with the fishers, hear their life stories and the pride they take in the methods they use, Plasse said.
“That is where we really are having the most pick-up is where consumers are really connecting and feeling better about what they are getting and trusting it,” he said. “When you eat fish, you want to know you are putting something in your body that is nutritious and pure,” and Fishpeople provides that assurance.
Taking the fear out of cooking fish
Fishpeople also helps consumers overcome their fear of cooking fish by offering them everything they need for a beautifully plated dish in its new Wildly Delicious Seafood Kits that launched in March.
“Our product really caters to the home cook no matter what their level of experience – we wanted to create an experience for them that was amazing, flavorful seafood that is naturally free from artificial colors, flavors or preservatives,” he said. He added, “our new line of Wildly Delicious Seafood Kits come with two wild American sustainably caught fish fillets, a chef crafted topper in a separate cup, a garnish in a separate cut, a moisture-lock baking tray and a card with step-by-step instructions for fool-proof results.”
The concept is similar to offerings from Love the Wild and Sea Cusine, but Plasse is not worried about the competition – rather he thinks that there is “enormous white space in seafood” and that the more companies that make it approachable and trustworthy, the better they all will fare.
This potential is evident in Fishpeople’s recent merger with Ilwaco Landing Fisherman, announced May 8.
According to Fishpeople, the deal will enhance its ability to bring Americans more sustainably-sourced seafood, including more albacore tuna, Dungeness crab, shellfish and groundfish, and offer increased job stability to the fishers of Ilwaco Landing Fishermen and its Garibaldi Landing Fishermen outpost.
“At the end of the day, we want to honor those fishermen and crews that provide high quality seafood and meticulous care. We want to support our community and we want to bring transparency closer to the fish, and the only way to do that, and the only way the industry will change, is if consumers buy products that do the right thing,” he said.