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Fukui's Monthly News Letter
Chiasson Aquaculture: Doing it right
In May of this year I attended the Aquaculture Association of Canada (AAC) meetings in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. I was presenting on oyster technology and participating in a group presentation on advanced seafood marketing strategies.
The day before the conference, I took the time to drive up to Miscou Island, on the North Eastern tip of New Brunswick, Canada, to visit with Yvon Chiasson of Chiasson Aquaculture Ltée.
I had heard about Yvon and his operation some time ago, but because of his semi-remote location I had not had a chance to visit him. My interest really got peaked, however, when we supplied a shellfish point of sale packaging system to Yvon, on his initiative and understanding that to sell more product at a greater profit he had to get more people to want his product.
Anybody who has been following my column over the last year will remember "quality + quantity = profitability", as well as the opportunities from product branding and consumer point of sale packaging, that will cause higher consumer sales against the competition of other protein sources.
I arrived in Lemeque, a fishing village just a few kilometers from Miscou Island, the night before my scheduled meeting with Yvon. After getting my accommodations set up I headed out to a local pub-style restaurant for dinner. It was at this restaurant that I got my first exposure to the work Yvon has been doing.
On the table was a triangle card that explained the benefits of Yvon's cultured Fresh Blue mussels from New Brunswick. It included a message from the president himself explaining how they were grown, and a beautiful colour picture of the product in a cream sauce, as well as the distinctive brand name. The only thing that I would have added would have been nutritional value for healthy eating benefits.
I have often commented in seminars around North America that the marketing of your product doesn't have to carry a large cost (which is the perception), and many times I have mentioned tabletop cards as an inexpensive way to create demand. Yet in all my travels this is the very first time I have seen it.
The beer, wine, liquor, chicken and other food or drink companies have done very well with this type of promoting. They do it because it works, and here in semi-remote NorthEast New Brunswick it works as well.
I had the mussels and they were as delicious as they looked on the picture. The server stated that with the cards on the table their sales of mussels had gone up considerably, and she had to do less suggestive selling, which she herself admitted in a busy environment was most times difficult.
The next day as I arrived at Yvon's operation I was taken aback by how clean and neat everything was, right down to the stylized name on the building, to the delivery trucks, which were identified in the same way.
The inside of the building matches what you would expect from the outside in that it is clean and neat, with holding, processing (declumping, grading & debyssing), and packing areas in the plant. There is a small retail area just inside the reception area adjacent to the offices.
The point I want readers to take here, is that in general most aquaculture operations put very little effort into how their operations look to the public. We all know that the public perception of our industry is not as positive as it could be, and this is one way to improve that image, both for consumers and for potential investors.
While I was in discussion with Yvon, he showed me a poster that he has made up for the retail serving counters, that again has similar information to what he has on his table top cards. This way he is getting his message out to both the food service and retail sectors. Yvon, a constant promoter, never missed a chance to get his name and product out there. At our meeting I was served fresh mussels, and before I left I was given a Chiasson Aquaculture cap.
With the purchase of the new packaging machine, his marketing efforts that can be directly controlled by himself are now all in place. The packages will be unique, with his special colour of knitted net very similar to real fishing net, to give that fresh-from-the-sea perception. It will have his label, which will match the information on his table cards and posters. It will have his logo, as well as nutritional information and suggested recipes. A full service product market awareness driven by the producer from the ground up, at a minimal cost per unit.
When I asked Yvon how come he was one of the few in the industry who has figured out that marketing is as important as, or even more important than, the farming operation, he just smiled and said "why not?".
Borrowing from one of my earlier columns, we discussed and agreed that the competition is not other mussel growers, it is other sources of food protein. If you look around at any food market or specialty store you will see that there is big competition among pork, beef and poultry, but not for seafood.
We really haven't even begun to affect consumer consumption habits with seafood, however when efforts like what Yvon has done are made, they stand out quite loudly. For every new consumer of mussels there is a referral trickle down effect, which over a very short time reaches 25 people who might be influenced to try a product that they do not consider mainstream. If you do not invest in marketing yourself and your product while you are growing, you will be at the mercy of the commodity markets down the road at harvest time.
On the farm operation side, Chiasson Aquaculture has been around for 15 years. The growout cycle from larvae to market product is 18 - 24 months. Yvon has a total of 300 hectares under lease at 4 different sites, with roughly ½ hour sail between sites. He harvests both winter and summer, and has holding facilities to service his clients' needs during shoulder harvest time. 90% of his product is sold in the province of Quebec, and of that 10% is sold in the local region. Current production is approximately 1 million pounds, and plans are on track to double this within 2 years.
There are 20 people on average employed at Chiasson Aquaculture. They have two work boats. One is a preparation work barge with a small hydraulic outboard motor, and his main vessel is a specially built turbo diesel power barge with lots of hydraulic power to run the work crane, star wheels and automatic continuous socking machines. It has a stern mounted wheelhouse and is equipped with sounder, radar and radios.
Future plans include getting back into oysters, which Yvon tried without success a number of years ago. However, with new husbandry technology, he feels that the time is right to re-address this species.
Yvon has not been afraid to invest or to reinvest in new technology in mussel husbandry gear. He, like many, used to operate single dropper sock longlines, however when continuous socking technology became available, he moved into this area.
Yvon follows some very primary rules of success in his business. Spend money to make money, invest in new technologies as soon as they are available, because labour will always cost more. Market your product and yourself as hard as you farm mussels, and deliver the quality and quantities that you claim you can.
Yvon Chiasson has one of the few mussel companies in North America that is doing it right!
Contact Don Bishop at:
Fukui North America
PO Box 669
110-B Bonnechere St.W.
Eganville, Ontario K0J 1T0
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