How to premiumize seafood in a can

Scout Canning pivots from foodservice to consumer sales with the help of DTC sampling.

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The term “canned” often has a negative association – whether it’s fake sitcom laughter, a less-than-helpful corporate response or food that’s preserved, especially seafood.

Scout Canning is hoping to change that by instead pointing out the even bigger image problem the seafood sector has as a whole: the bulk of the seafood entering our markets comes from regions where labour and environmental considerations aren’t often top of mind – and offering an alternative to retail buyers with its local, sustainable and premium canned seafood through DTC sampling company Sampler.

Toronto-based Scout Canning launched its canned seafood (which includes Atlantic lobster, rainbow trout and PEI mussels) in 50 Northeastern U.S. Whole Foods outlets Thursday, and it’s coming to Toronto retail stores in the coming weeks. To differentiate from other seafood options, Scout highlights that it sources only from North American waters, and has full sustainability from “boat to shelf,” working directly with fishery partners to ensure they are compensated fairly.

Part of how Scout got onto shelves was a program launched by Sampler, which put together like-minded brands in a sampling box for retail buyers on behalf of New Hope, a Colorado-based media, events and market intelligence company focused on “better for you and the planet” brands. New Hope’s network of buyers and category managers have the option to request program samples from their category using Sampler’s digital product sampling technology.

Adam Bent, co-founder and CEO of Scout Canning, says the new “New Hope Network Retail Discovery Box” is a cost-effective and impactful opportunity to getting Scout products in front of retail buyers, which is especially critical with food expos being cancelled thanks to COVID. Scout worked with Sampler on a more industry-focused program because it was designed primarily for chefs, restaurants and wine bars, with the hope it would trickle down to culinary-minded consumers that put trust in chefs, like Scout co-founder Charlotte Langley. However, when COVID struck and restaurants closed, Scout had to “direct-to-consumer-ify” its brand and will soon move to Sampler’s more consumer-facing sample boxes.

It is now looking to reach a 26-to-45 female demographic that is “culinary curious,” and health and wellness focused. “We want data back first on our target,” Bent says. “We will [then] go broader with line extensions and smaller demographic groups.” Scout has also redone its website. Originally, it anticipated 2% of its sales to be online – now, it’s 15% with the COVID shift.

Scout also has to contend with the fact that the U.S. per capita seafood consumption is half that of countries like Portugal, Norway and China, where approximately 70% of the population consume fish twice a week.

Still, Bent sees opportunity, as COVID is making consumers reimagine their relationship with food, cooking more at home, engaging with new recipes and getting out of their comfort zones. Bent says seafood consumption in North America, despite being low compared with European and Asian consumption, is the highest it’s been since the 80s in North America. There’s been a spike in the U.S. and Canada, already on the rise pre-COVID, built around a search for healthier proteins and going away from land-based agriculture, he says.

 

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Bent says changing perceptions about canned fish is the brand’s biggest challenge. “When you say canned, people think tuna and salmon, oil and water, that’s it,” Bent says.

The brand is changing perceptions by marketing around the craft and heritage of preservation and canning. That’s why it is targeting stores like Whole Foods, Pusateri’s, butcher shops and independent grocers for placement. It is looking to work with LA-based Thrive Market, an American e-commerce membership-based retailer offering natural and organic food products, as well as Vancouver-based Spud, and Montreal-based Lufa Farms, hybrid grocers with online and physical presence.

Scout has also partnered with Food52, a nearly three million Instagram follower-strong online food community that connects home cooks with the interests they are passionate about, using social and editorial content to boost profile.

Going forward, he says Scout will be doing chef collaborations and driving awareness by bringing regional seafood species to market, such as black cod (sablefish) for the California market, where it’s working with a James Beard Award-winning chef. Pop up picnics are part of the plan, as are “sea-cuterie” showcases, “whether it’s Trinity Bellwoods or Central Park, where consumers can book a 30-minute event and enjoy the experience.”

The full launch was slated for this past Monday, the UN’s World Oceans Day. Now, however, considering the activism taking place stateside, Bent says Scout is scaling back to a soft launch. For the brand’s official launch in July and August, Scout is putting out a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified tuna product in olive oil and herb formats, as according to Bent, out of the $2.6 billion US canned fish market in the US, $ 1.6 billion of that is tuna.