Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Category - Coastal

From boat to pouch: The Oregon Seafoods story

4lb Pouches

Many people have ideas about starting a business around mom’s home cooking.

For Mike Babcock, Founder of Sea Fare Pacific and an avid sport fisherman, the food he wanted to bring to market was fresh home canned pacific albacore tuna from the Oregon coast. Mike and his family have canned their own tuna for years, and thus, he was very aware of the taste and quality difference.

Mike had the realization that if fresh tuna could be canned like his mom used to do, there would be many people wanting to enjoy the taste.

“Oregon Seafood started in 2010 as a small canning operation to process fish products that did not get sold fresh in the fish market I had helped fund to get started,” he said. “It was a way to utilize product that may go to waste. It seemed like a good idea at the time — but I really didn’t know what that entailed — much more involved than I anticipated (not as simple as putting a few jars into a steam cooker on the stove top). The business naturally grew as we had to generate enough revenue to support the growing complexity of the business.“

Mike’s business background was not in fish or seafood, but rather, wood. It’s a business journey that touches on two keystone industries in Oregon.Funnel & Seal Check

From wood to fish

Mike founded Northwest Fir Products in Creswell Oregon in 1993. The company was primarily a small log operation specializing in producing stud logs for Willamette Industries and fence posts for retailers.

“When I started, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I didn’t know the difference between a doug fir and an alder log (he says with a smile). I had no previous experience in wood products and purchased my first mill while it was buried in snow over in Bend, Oregon.“

In 2004, Mike founded Goshen Forest Products as a larger small log operation specializing in cutting stud length lumber out of logs up to 12″ in diameter, and also producing fence posts and poles. Both operations have done well with a strong and consistent customer base, many of whom have been with Northwest Fir Products and Goshen Forest Products from the start.

“Growing the operation from a handful to 75 employees certainly had its challenges and I believe that this growth, which has had an impact on all phases of the business, prepared us to accomplish the same thing in seafood manufacturing.”

With the processes in place at Goshen Forest Products, Mike looked for a new challenge and became a partner in a retail fish market in Coos Bay. While analyzing ways to help the retail fish shop, an opportunity arose around seafood processing and manufacturing.

“Initially as I looked beyond processing fish for the market, Albacore was an underutilized species. Most of the catch was being sent outside of the US for processing, and fishermen were getting less for their catch than they did 20 years ago. It was hard to believe that the fish were being sent overseas to process and then shipped back into the US for sale. Being naive to cheap container movement and extremely low labor costs, I thought we could put together a business model that could compete with more expensive American labor.”

Charleston, OR Processing Plant

Charleston, OR Processing Plant

So Mike made the leap and went all in on developing a processing plant on the Oregon coast, which included putting $1 Million of his own money into the project. But as with any new venture, he analyzed potential locations for the processing plant, many of which were not in Coos Bay.

“Being new to the Coos Bay area I really didn’t have many ties here, other than a few tree farms I had relationships with. As we looked to build a new facility, I looked as far North as Newport and even considered the I-5 corridor. The longer I’m here, the more important this community becomes. I do have a strong desire to build a business here on the South Coast that will support many family wage jobs and help people grow to their fullest potential. “

Freezer Space

Freezer Space

Finding the needed rigging

With a focus on building the business in the Coos Bay community, Mike worked with the local SBDC center to help get the facility up and running in an efficient timeframe.

“SBDC was not involved in the beginning, but they are instrumental in allowing us to take the next step in getting the new facility built. Without their help we would be stuck building out the new facility at a much slower pace (as available cash came in the door). Not only did they help with the business plan, they worked with lenders to help put the financing together. On top of all that, they are great cheerleaders and continue to support us with a positive ‘can do’ attitude. Theresa Haga has been the point person and I can’t say enough good things about her. She really got it done.”

Processing Room

Processing Room

Mike will be the first one to tell you that the original business model, one that can compete with more expensive American labor, is currently still a work in progress. Oregon Seafoods has not been able to get their pricing down to match offshore produced Albacore tuna, but the team is learning more about the many variables associated with the seafood processing and distribution equation, and refining the model.

“Not all fish are sourced in the Pacific Northwest even if they are marketed that way. The majority of Albacore are caught in other oceans, including older adult breeding fish with potential mercury issues. These fish are a lot less expensive than the younger (2-4 year old) juvenile fish (clean and healthy) we catch and process here. Therefore we are focusing on marketing a higher end product in higher end stores. We are building a trusted brand that over time will add more value to the fish and to the guys who catch these fish.“

But a trusted brand is more than just a name and tasting good. It’s about the full product cycle; from the relationships with the fishermen/women to how the fish is processed and ultimately delivered to the customer.

This focus on the full cycle is helping to position the brand for retail and community success.

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Innovative packaging and sustainable fishing

As Mike ramped up the processing, he spoke to several local fishing veterans about Albacore and their markets. What he found was support for the vision he had for Oregon Seafoods, as they felt they were getting taken advantage of in regards to pricing. The fishermen seemed excited to have another potential market.

But the fishermen also provided some valuable feedback on how best to package the fresh caught Albacore. Fishing veterans, Rick Goche , F/V Peso II, and Mark and Cynthia Schneider, F/V Sea Princess (members of the albacore commission) steered him towards an earth-friendly pouch.

“The Albacore commission had already funded testing of the retort pouch at Oregon Sea Grant (OSU test retort facility in Astoria). Mark Whitham did the work and was a big factor that led us to pursue the opportunity. It seems like the US lags the rest of the world on adopting newer technologies, including understanding and accepting pouches as they have been widely accepted in Asia as well as Europe. So I decided to take a calculated gamble and invested in a Toyo Jidoki pouch machine.”

Pouch Packaging Process

Pouch Packaging Process

The pouches not only preserve the fresh caught taste, but are also free of chemicals like BPA and are less environmentally taxing to make, which is part of an overall emphasis on sustainability.

All of the Albacore that Oregon Seafoods uses in their Sea Fare Pacific branded products is troll caught, which prevents overfishing and by-catch (catching sea animals like turtles and dolphins). These fish are also caught in Oregon and support Oregon based fishing families.

Something that Mike will continue to support even as the Sea Fare Pacific product line grows.

“We have settled into Charleston, OR for the near future. As we continue to evolve into a food company (soup production for instance) the business would be better suited closer to I-5, which is a hurdle we’ll jump when we come to it. As we grow our seafood processing, there may be an opportunity to build another plant somewhere on the Coast; probably focus to the North as that seems to be where the Albacore are concentrated.”

They are looking to grow the private label business, and look to opportunities to also private label for other seafood companies. Oregon Seafoods has also begun exporting with some going to China, and with all of this momentum comes more challenges and opportunities.

“The biggest challenge is finishing up our new facility project with the right equipment so we can continue to meet our growth goals. The biggest opportunities will come with the added production capability and the new certifications we will have; we have lots of interest and it is very likely the new plant will be to capacity in a very short period of time.”

And for all of us who love fresh caught seafood, the Sea Fare Pacific products are scattered across the US, from small independent stores to a few big retailers like WalMart and Amazon.

Harvester (4)

For more information visit www.oregonseafoods.com & www.seafarepacific.com , like them on facebook and follow them on twitter

Kickstarting sustainable seafood

fish shack photo lisa skaff

From the Flying Fish shack on Hawthorne, Lyf Gildersleeve passion about seafood is palpable. Maybe because it’s a passion that can be traced back to his upbringing in northern Idaho.

“My dad used to be a flight instructor for small planes. And trips from Sandpoint, Idaho, to Seattle were very common. During those trips, he would bring back fish to sell inland. That’s how Flying Fish got started in 1979, before I was even born.”

The business idea permeated the entire family, and in 2007, Lyf’s aunt opened the second Flying Fish in Durango, Colorado. That entrepreneurial gene found its way to Lyf, and in 2009 he and his wife, Natalie, opened up the third location in Park City, Utah — but two years later they sold that location and moved to Portland.

lyf holding two salmon in front of shack (2)In Portland, Lyf saw an opportunity to work with a community that resonated with him, leveraging its unique geographic location to create more of an impact.

“Portland has an amazing resource for food production. both farmed and wild. Being only 90 minutes from the ocean is awesome. It allows for sustainable seafood direct from the fishermen. There are no flights required to get you to this natural resource. Oregonians are lucky.

“In addition, the farms around portland are into raising their animals differently — not in confined feedlots. Portland residents are into living a more sustainable lifestyle. And it’s been awesome to see how we can move forward as a culture… and ultimately be a role model for the nation to follow.”

Starting at the source

Fresh and sustainable seafood is only one part of the equation Lyf is trying to address through Flying Fish. The other focuses on the fishermen, and how his simple process is looking to affect the supply chain to make it more fair to them. To that end, he took his knowledge of the industry and spent a lot of time building up the fishermen he engages.

“Since I grew up with my family owning a fish market, I knew what to look for and how to handle fish. When I moved to Oregon four-and-a-half years ago, I started with a clean slate so I had to build all my relationships one by one. I started by driving up and down the coasts, talking to fishermen on the docks and eventually building relationships which are still in place today.

“Currently, I have direct relationships with fishermen throughout Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and a few on the east coast. I go out fishing with some of my commercial fishermen to see how they handle the fish after being caught.”

Controlling costs

With relationships in hand, the business of bringing fresh and sustainable fish to customers in Portland began. While costs are always a concern in a retail environment, Lyf worked with these initial partners on equitable pricing for everyone.

Equitable pay for fresh and sustainable seafood are parts of the equation Lyf is trying to address through Flying Fish, and by focusing on the fishermen first,  his simple process is looking to affect the supply chain in very impactful ways.

“We pay the fishermen more money for their catch, and we also try to buy their bi-catch so they can get more value for their fishing trips. In addition, we work on helping them improve their quality, because in the end if it lasts longer and is better quality, they can get more money for their product.”

But as Lyf has waded into the supply chain, the challenges began to become more apparent.

“As I work with more fishermen, the complexity gets deeper. If the large processors find out that a fisherman is selling direct to me or the consumer, then the processor won’t sell them fuel, ice, or bait. This ultimately makes it hard for the fisherman to be able to fish.”

These hurdles have not deterred Lyf, because in the end he knows his process is better for both the environment and fishermen.

“Even with the potential challenges associated with the relationship, fishermen love Flying Fish. I pay them more than the larger processors on the coasts, and they know the consumer is enjoying their amazing product, which gives the fisherman a good feeling about working with me.”

Taking it a step further

Being on the coast is far from the only requirement to meet Flying Fish standards. With a background in aquaculture and his mission, Lyf focuses only on engaging those who are doing it right.

“Part of my evaluation process is to make sure the farm is raising them properly without artificial color, hormones, antibiotics, and lower stocking densities. Sustainability, for me, is really important, and sustainability is more than just how the fish is raised and caught. There are factors like the amount of fuel used to transport fish direct to me, instead as opposed to sending them to China and back to be processed, which really happens. We are also cognizant about not supporting overfished species, and buying what’s in season — all important steps in the total sustainability cycle.”

Kicking it up a notch

But making an impact now, and a bigger impact as Flying Fish evolves, is the basis for Flying Fish’s current Kickstarter campaign. The campaign funds will allow them to expand their warehouse facilities, and also open up a new retail location on NE Sandy.

“I am pretty unconventional in that I haven’t had to get big bank loans up to date. So I’m trying to continue that methodology. I think we, the business community, need to re-wire our practices to be more geared towards people, not just corporations selling each company to each other. The crowdfunding method is community backed, which is how we want to grow. The bottom line is that we are not selling out to a big company. Period.”

Even with the new funds, however, Lyf sees additional challenges on the horizon.

“Keeping the value of a small business as we grow is difficult — both from a staffing and supplier standpoint. Our goal is to work with more small farms rather than to simply choose the larger farms who could supply us the quantities that we need. This is a key difference between the Flying Fish model and other retailers. We use the small guys only, no big co-op farms. And from a staffing perspective, it’s important to keep my friends and community working with me, not just hire ’employees’ so to speak. We are all family around Flying Fish.”

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For more information visit, www.flyingfishcompany.com, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Or get more involved and help Flying Fish reach its Kickstarter goal.

Embracing the business of vacations

Inn at Haystack Rock

Some people thrive in the corporate world. Antoine Simmons was one of those people.

Working as a middle manager at Intel in mergers and acquisitions, life was good. Antoine had also started to dabble in real estate—buying fixer-uppers here and there on the side, and then turning them for a profit. He and his wife Rocio had also started their family, and by the year 2000 they had two children, Chantal and Rachel, with one more, Elias, on the way, but change was in the air.

As his workload shifted, it became more and more evident that Intel was in the middle of some changes as the company started offering severance packages to employees who wanted to leave. It was then that Antoine recognized an opportunity to strip off his identity of a corporate man living in a corporate world, and venture into an industry he knew little about.

“The writing was on the wall. It came to a point that I had to make a decision, so I finally took off the golden handcuffs of Intel.”

His next life would be as a hotelier.

An organized upbringing

Antoine’s parents were both teachers and owned 10 acres at the edge of Knotts Berry Farm in Cypress, California. The family raised chickens, pigs, turkeys and rabbits, as well as nurtured a small orchard. There, they taught their five boys and three girls the value of a dollar, that hard work was something to be proud of, that horsing around was something you did in the ‘horsing-around room,’ and that—if you put your mind to it—you could become all you wanted to become and more.

“My dad pushed hard. My mom set goals. They were strict and they were organized,” said Antoine. “In high school you are trying to figure out who you are. Trying to find happiness, but it’s kind of artificial. Soon you realize that home is what is real, it’s unconditional.

“My mom was the hardest working person I’ve ever known. She had a monthly planner and she knew who would be doing the dishes and who would be making potatoes a month in advance. She built us a horsing-around room outside of the house for my brothers and me to wrestle in.”

Growing up Antoine worked side by side with his dad and siblings. During the summer, he and his brothers helped his dad build apartments on their property.

“We learned how to work. It was amazing if you look at all the experience we got growing up. When I grew up I knew I wanted to be just like my dad.” Antoine said, as he held back the tears that welled up in his eyes. “I think I am, I think I’m growing up to be like him.”

“My dad is 85, and my mom is in her late 70’s and they still garden and have an orchard.”

After Antoine graduated from high school his parents moved to Hillsboro. He headed off to Utah, where he quickly became a ski bum. He also spent a couple of years in Florida on a mission with the Church of Latter Day Saints, before coming back to Oregon. He has his Master’s in Business at George Fox University in Newberg.

Once he graduated he settled down in Hillsboro where he began working at Intel, the company where he would eventually meet his wife, Rocio.

Antoine didn’t know it at the time. But retiring with a gold watch and a pat on the back was not to be in the cards.

Leaving the corporate nest

On a trip to Cannon Beach Antoine and Rocio stumbled across a house that was in dire need of someone to pull it back from the brink of disrepair. After some research they learned the owner of the home also owned the Blue Gull Inn across the street. They were “absentee owners,” and they wanted to sell both the house and the inn.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.56.40 AMBy May of 2000 Antoine and Rocio became the proud new owners of that home as well as the Blue Gull Inn, and then took over the management of it in July of the same year.

They were now hoteliers.

As anyone who has left the corporate world to strike out on their own knows, this is not a decision to take lightly. It is a decision that has to be made more by inspiration than reality. One that stands to result in utter disappointment as easily as complete satisfaction. A decision such as this is completely life-changing, and once made, the corporate world becomes an ever fading part of one’s past. Something that helped them along the way, but in no way defining who they have the potential of becoming.

“This is where the work began,” said Antoine.

“When we took over, all the reservations were done by hand. There was a big book with all the dates and all the rooms, it was crazy. We cleaned all of the rooms and brought the inn to the modern age with online booking.”

“The first time someone booked online was amazing.”

A flare for function

The husband and wife team soon began managing other properties in addition to their own, and in 2004 they created a new name, Haystack Lodgings, to encompass their entire business. They managed six motels in Cannon beach, including Ocean Spray Inn, Sand Trap, Sand Castle, and Sunset Inn, as well as 15 vacation homes.

Antoine and Rocio bought the Inn at Haystack Rock, and in 2011, they signed the papers to purchase the Inn at the Prom in Seaside.

Inn at the Prom“I was so nervous that day,” said Antoine.

Finally, in early 2014, they purchased the crown jewel, the historic Gilbert Inn in Seaside. The Queen Anne style home was built by Alexandre Gilbert in 1892.

With the Haystack Lodgings’ care and attention, The Gilbert Inn is now an 11 room couple’s retreat just steps away from Seaside Promenade, an 8,000 foot long concrete boardwalk between Seaside and the beach.

Time for more focus

Eventually Antoine and Rocio decided to stop managing other properties so they could just concentrate on their own.

“I am constantly striving to learn more about this industry,” he said, his excitement level more like someone new in the business instead of someone who now has 14 years of experience.

“Some of our guests have been with us for so long. You have to change in this business, people want to escape. Our goal is to surprise, to do something a little different, to keep them coming back time and again.”

Antoine said he strives to provide his guests with an ‘un-motel experience’. The proof is in the properties that he continually upgrades and improves. The tile work and carpentry are a shining example of how much he wants his guests to be able to escape their normal day to day life while staying at Haystack Properties. The oceanfront view from immaculate rooms are just a portion of what some of his properties have to offer.

“The Blue Gull Inn has a hacienda design and all of the furniture was built and hand-carved by our carpenter, Victor Campuzano, and our tile work was created by Domingo Victoria. We have been really blessed in our lives. Most people have been with us for more than 10 years,” he said, referring to his employees. “It is like a family, we take care of each other, and everybody feels like a part of us.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.57.02 AMAntoine has no regrets about trading in his comfortable corporate career for his life as a hotelier. This life choice suits him. He truly loves getting to know his customers and inviting them back to see what new changes have taken place since their last visit. He gets to teach them about the surrounding area, and all of the beauty that is out there for them to enjoy.

“Being able to take something and get this idea of what it could be, and see it come to life. Taking something old and making it new and seeing it come together, there is no better feeling,” said Antoine as he reflected on his chosen career path.

He also knows he would not be where he is today without Rocio, who he credits his success to.

“I get to work with my family. I get to work my wife,” he said with a smile. “She is such an intricate part of this business. We are partners and co-leaders. We have been able to learn how to run a business together; we’ve done a lot of housekeeping together. Having two strong people that are partners, with the same goals, it helps you trust in yourself, have faith and knowing the harder you work the easier it is going to get. It takes a lot of work to survive in this industry; you have to constantly be thinking on how to improve. I have learned we are the sum of all of our experiences. I try to be the best person I can be, but you can ask my kids, they will tell you I am a major work in progress.”

All three of his children are now teenagers. Chantal is 19, an artist and is attending college; Rachel is 15 and plays soccer; Elias is on the swim team and is now 14. They all spend their summers as part of the housekeeping staff as Antoine instills some of the same ‘hard-work’ ethics into his own children that his father instilled in him. He also teaches them to appreciate the land they call home.

“There is so much natural beauty in Oregon. We have the ocean, the mountains, the high desert; it is the variety that we enjoy so much. I tell my kids ‘look at what is in your own back yard. Our back yard is beautiful. We have national parks, running on the beach, hiking trails… I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

For more information, visit http://www.haystacklodgings.com/.

Adding value to Oregon seafood

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Something about Oregon’s fishing industry smelled off to Duncan Berry. The one-time salmon fisherman had made a livelihood at the helm of Apparel Source, disrupting the global textile industry by shepherding in large-scale adoption of organic cotton by retail giants like Walmart and Target.

“The one thing that’s missing in America is people who are applying their intelligence to raw materials,” Berry says. “We do great films, and great software companies, but what are we doing with the marine resource off our coast right now—one of the last great savannas of seafood? Well, we cut their heads off and we gut them, and we ship them out.”

Sea change ahead

After selling his apparel business in the mid-2000s, Berry semi-retired to his home at Cascade Head on the Oregon central coast to start an environmental consulting service.

To the south lies the Salmon River where it empties into the Pacific Ocean, and beyond that the 529-acre Camp Westwind. Berry and others have helped restore the camp through a stewardship group that he co-founded. Down the cliffs to the west: the Cascade Head Marine Reserve, established in 2014 to protect marine habitat across 18 square-miles of Pacific Ocean. Berry worked on the task force to make that happen as well.

He knew that through time and dedication, positive environmental change could happen, and that business could help drive that change. Which is why he was so perplexed at seafood industry practices that had evolved so little since his own experiences in the business decades earlier.

With ocean habitat in disrepair and species in steep decline, with coastal communities desperate for economic innovation, and with some of most valuable natural resources right at our fingertips here in Oregon—why didn’t someone do things differently?

That, in a clamshell, is the story of Fishpeople, a fast-growing seafood product company based in Portland, with a processing plant on Oregon’s central coast. Founded in 2012, the company’s goal is nothing short of changing our relationship with the sea through business.

Supply chain of values

Berry and his co-founder, Kipp Baratoff, share a commitment to values-based business. Baratoff, the CFO and COO, comes from a background of blending finance and sustainability that includes stints with Meyer Memorial Trust, real estate developer Gerding Edlen, and Equilibrium Capital.

FishpeopleBoth buy into the credo that a healthy economic system relies on a healthy natural system. But they were also aware that “there’s a graveyard of companies out there” that began with good intentions, Berry says: “No margin, no mission.”

To find that margin, the two began probing every link in the supply chain between the fisherman and the consumer.

“We asked two questions: What’s right about seafood in your life, and what’s not so good?” says Berry.

Over the course of nine months, what they heard from “distributors, grocers, mothers, children, fisherman, processors” began to illustrate the nature of the problems and the shape that a solution might take.

“There’s always a consumer that is moving at a faster speed than the entrenched business interests,” Berry says. “And there are those companies that are very nimble—mid-sized and below—that are able to move more swiftly to reorganize supply chains and connect all the dots to serve that customer.”

“If you could create and aggregate demand at the consumer level you could then drive change through the entire supply chain—if you really understood what the consumer wanted today,” Baratoff says.

A better packaged good

Through those efforts, they recognized the emergence a new customer—one that had not existed previously. It was a consumer who wanted quality and easily prepared meals, but was also concerned about source, safety, and traceability of ingredients. Healthy and gourmet grab-and-go was booming.

Berry and Baratoff saw their opening.

“What narrowed the focus was around providing solutions: A super-healthy form of protein, a social and environmental mission, and delivering a food that was being underutilized only because of the delivery mechanism,” Berry says.

They knew that Fishpeople wasn’t going to make change working at the commodity end of the equation—dominated by a couple of “monopolistic titans” not keen on new competition, as Baratoff describes it. No margin. Retail, at the other end of the spectrum, wasn’t financially feasible either.

But a branded product allowed for a relationship with the customer, while still maintaining leverage back up the supply chain. That’s where the change would need to be made.

“We did an analysis of what it would be like if we just cut off heads and gutted fish and shipped them out of state versus value-added them, and it was a swing between $700 million and $1.1 billion,” Berry says. “So we would maintain $400 million more, in Oregon, if we were able to apply value-add like we do with our pouches,” increasing the value of the fish inside by four or five times.

The “pouches” are vacuum-sealed retort packages that contain a shelf-stable product that can be prepared just by tossing the pouch in boiling water for three minutes. It eliminates spoilage and smell, and makes fish a quick and easy meal option.

However, before they could start packaging and selling, Fishpeople had to address some weaknesses in the regional processing infrastructure, finding partners willing to meet their product standards and specifications.

Processing on the coast

ProcessingOn a Monday in November, workers diced up smoked and frozen fillets of Chinook salmon two at a time, using a high-powered water jet that sliced the slabs into a grid of uniform chunks.

Once the fish is prepared, it’s sent to a manufacturing facility in Salem for packaging.

“It hasn’t come easily, but every day is a little better,” says Adam Hoogewind, a food science Ph.D. who heads up quality assurance for Fishpeople. “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Fishpeople’s processing facility opened in the summer of 2014 in the tiny central coast community of Toledo. A $30,000 economic development grant from the USDA to the Port of Toledo helped get the space up and running.

Change here has been a constant.

Since opening, plant employees have had to learn on the fly, rearranging the building layout, swapping out machinery, and experimenting with different processing approaches.

This particular step in the food processing supply chain, which would render fresh-caught fish into mouth-size morsels, just didn’t exist here in Oregon. Then again, neither did the dozen or so jobs that came with solving this problem.

“There’s no reason why a marine resource that comes from the coast shouldn’t create economic development at the coast,” Baratoff says.

Growth and shelf-stability

Today, Fishpeople has nine different products that retail at $5.99 in most major grocery chains on the West Coast, and is working its way back east. The varieties, prepared with input from a “flavor council” of cooks and chefs, include soups and sides such as Alder Smoked Wild Salmon Chowder, Albacore Tuna in a Yellow Coconut Curry, and Dungeness Crab & Pink Shrimp Bisque.

“We were at Kroger the other day,” Berry says, “and we cooked up nine different SKUs in the kitchen in their offices and we brought the buyers in and asked, ‘Do you smell anything?’
‘No,’ they said, ‘why?’

“Seafood.”

And that’s the beauty of the product. No strong fishy odors, great flavors, easily prepared, and good for you. Duncan Berry himself has tweaked the package graphics to better illustrate ease of preparation and to educate customers who hesitate at the unfamiliar retort pouch.

FishpeopleThe company’s story—it’s also a certified B Corporation—is an important part of connecting with consumers, but ultimately the product has to stand on its own.

Berry imagines Fishpeople’s customers saying, “You know what? I love seafood, but it is a real hassle to prepare. So, if you could make it convenient for me, and really healthy, and I could trust you because you are transparent? Then I’ll help you change our relationship with the sea. But do something for me first in my life with my kids and my family.”

With plans for expansion, hiring, and new products later this year, Fishpeople is on a rise buoyed by an Oregon-made product that tastes and smells as good as it is—and only in part because of the good it does.

“The most humbling thing is that are other people who want to walk on this journey with us, because we just can’t do it alone,” Baratoff says. “Our consumers have to walk with us, our supply chain has to walk with us, every employee in this place has to walk with us—if they don’t understand that intention, then Duncan and I aren’t doing our jobs. But if we can set that intention, there’s a pretty strong current going in the right direction.”

Fishpeople has an ongoing relationship with the suppliers for every ingredient in its packages, the majority of which come from the Pacific Northwest. They’ve even included batch numbers on every package that consumers can input online to see the source and producer for everything in that specific serving, from the fish and vegetables to herbs and spices.

That regional supply chain provides transparency, and also solves the issues and expense of refrigeration and spoilage that plague the seafood business.

“There’s value-based reasons for why we try to create things in Oregon or the Pacific Northwest that are deeply important to us,” says Baratoff, “But those are also just byproducts of building a good business.”

For more information, visit http://fishpeopleseafood.com/, follow Fishpeople on Twitter, like Fishpeople on Facebook, or follow Fishpeople on Instagram.

Swimming in business, sustainably

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As the daughter of an Oregon fisherman, Laura Anderson spent enough time on boats to learn and respect those who make their living at sea. She also learned such a life wasn’t for her. But a few years traveling the globe—first in the Peace Corps and then working as bookkeeper in Vietnam—conspired to reconnect her future ambitions with her salty past. She eventually returned to Newport, Oregon to earn her living from the riches of the Pacific Ocean, much like her father did.

“Dungeness crab, king salmon, fish prized around the globe and it’s all right here in Newport,” Anderson, 44, says. “Some of the most valuable natural capital of the world – in both quality and quantity – is right here outside our doors.”

Good catch, bad pay

Anderson never shirked from a challenge of succeeding in two industries—restaurants and fishing—that are like the aftermath of great battles, littered with carcasses of those seeking success.

BoatsFormer business partner Al Pazar says when Anderson approached him about a fish market/restaurant across from the marina that would pay for the catch directly, she caught him on the right day. He had just come in with a pristine load of salmon only to find the price paid to him less than half of what a catch like that should warrant.

“I was pissed,” he says. “I just worked really hard and took care of them and got nothing for them.”

He said yes on the spot. Anderson originally was going to work for Pazar. But her dad convinced her to ask to be a 50/50 partner in respect to her unique experience, education and role in operations. Local Ocean Seafoods was born.

“That was definitely the best advice I’ve ever been given in my life ever,” Anderson says. “That was game changing. I would never had the gumption to ask to be a partner.”

An effective supply chain

Pazar helped recruit other fishermen to provide the stock. For fishermen like Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson, the match was ideal. As he grew older he no longer wanted to spend weeks at sea, he says.

“I was looking for something I could fish for a few hours,” he says. “I thought they’d never take all the fish I could catch. Well, I ate my words.”

Another vital piece fell into place when local fish buyer Amber Morris came aboard as the designated “fish goddess.” Her local knowledge and exacting standards helped build the company’s reputation, says Anderson. Thompson agrees, crediting Morris as a vital tie between Local Ocean and the fishermen on the docks.

“She knows who to get and where the best fish are,” Thompson says. “They make sure that I can still sell my fish. It’s a give and take.”

Making sustainable and local profitable

Instead of braving rough sea, Anderson braved a battered economy to forge a thriving seafood restaurant and fish market that has become the state’s standard bearer for locally caught seafood and sustainable fishing practices. Local Ocean is built on Anderson’s own deep roots and the state’s longstanding fishing economy.

“I’m a believer in what she’s done and the model they have there,” says Thompson.

Laura Anderson of Local Ocean SeafoodsHe’s not alone. Pazar credits Anderson’s resolve for the company’s success.

“The reason why Laura was a perfect partner is that she has no fear,” Pazar says. “With that kind of confidence you can’t fail.”

The company combined Anderson’s various interests and experiences with Pazar’s connections to the fishing community. Pazar, a fisherman by trade, is also a successful entrepreneur. The partnership was one of shared philosophy and a strong sense of place.

“That’s kind of the allure of the place,” Pazar says. “It’s a nice blend. You look at the fish while you are waiting for the table. You can take fish home and you can look out and see the boats that caught it. You can roll down the windows on a nice day and feel like a part of the bay front.”

A seafood experience

Anderson agrees, saying the entire experience from sustainable catch, fair wages to fishermen, to sound business practices that benefit the local economy all add up to the unique success of Local Ocean.

Seafood“The vision really has not changed in the ten years we’ve been in business. We give them the best seafood experience they’ve ever had in their life. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear our exact mission statement come out of people’s mouths,” she says.

Though the original idea was a fish market with small deli attached, it quickly reversed into a restaurant with a fish market attached. Interest in sustainable catch helped the company thrive.

“I had no idea when we started this how successful it would be. We’ve exceeded those projections of 10 years ago 20 times over by now,” Anderson says. “They say in business things don’t work out how you plan, and in this case that’s a good thing.”

Pazar says the business still stands for his philosophy that ensures the highest quality. He calls it a “vertical integration” that in effect tells the story of a given fish that’s sold and eaten.

“If you have chain of custody from the minute it’s caught until it’s on a guy’s plate, you are solely responsible for that quality,” Pazar says.

The fisherman have bought into the story as well, he says.

“People are very proud to have their name on a tag on the fish in the case. It’s a big deal. People take pictures of it and it speaks to value, quality and sustainability.”

Ready to scale?

Anderson bought out Pazar a few years back, which Pazar says went reasonably well for a profitable business both felt so passionate about.

“We had an exit strategy built in. We’re both reasonable people. It went well. It was tough letting it go, but I’m still very attached to things I built and that promote my philosophy of seafood and marketing. I know it’s in good hands. It’s a pretty good gig,” he says.

So good that the question is often asked: is this lightning in a bottle or is it ready to scale? It’s a question Anderson herself can’t answer, at least not yet.

“There are no shortages of requests for us to replicate this,” she says. “My gut sense is we have this serendipitous thing here. Local Ocean Portland, for example, may not have the same feel, that kind of terroir that makes this work so well.”

Fishing economy done right

Anyone connected to Local Ocean is connected to the local economy and the greater issues of sustainability. As fishing is threatened around the globe, they say Oregon has set an example for fishing done right.

Boat“What Oregon does better than anybody else is to try to have sustainable fisheries,” Thompson says. “I think it’s up to 95 percent of the fish in the state of Oregon is certified sustainable. That’s a big accomplishment.”

Anderson is as much a part of the advocacy for sustainability as she is a business owner (“I like to think I’m a voice of reason, not an activist,” she says). Her platform adds to consumer knowledge. She is so integrated into the entire ecosystem she never considered cutting corners, she said.

“For me its inherent in who I am, and it comes no doubt from my legacy of fishing with my family. I feel this almost over-arching protectionism toward the industry,” Anderson says.

Part of improving that distribution chain, Thompson says, is changing laws, improving the supply chain and continuing education of fishing practices. All of it has to work together for both sustainability and profitability.

“There’s a big challenge in the state of Oregon,” Thompson says.

So much so that in coming years, Anderson would like to be involved in the ongoing issue of improving delivery of the riches of the Pacific Ocean to inland markets.

“My next step is making that link between valley and coast. Distribution hubs and microprocessing,” Anderson says. “There’s a big disconnect in distribution for the small guy. That’s where I see myself. Is it related to Local Ocean? Yes. But is it the heart of our business? No.”

It seems a safe bet that one way or another Local Ocean and Laura Anderson will be involved in the challenge.

For more information, visit http://www.localocean.net/, follow Local Ocean on Twitter, or like Local Ocean on Facebook.