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The Family Seafood Business

Jason Baker | July 4, 2013

Working on the edges of the seafood sector has offered me an opportunity to witness an industry in transition. Ketchum Manufacturing at its roots is an agricultural supply company which since 1913 has specialized in supplying traceability products to farmers. So it is with empathy and understanding that we appreciate the pressures that farmers face. With so much out of their control it’s a wonder how the family farm has survived at all. The family farm appears to be a dwindling sector giving way to large industrial farms who can better weather the challenges farmers face.

When I began selling products to the seafood industry I was struck by the similarities between the seafood and agricultural sectors. Both are majorly dependent on weather, both operate with many factors outside of their control, and both are under massive regulatory control and as food suppliers rightly so. But it strikes me how frustrating it must be to have the perfect business plan prepared only to see market conditions ruin your best laid plans and have you scrambling for business survival. Whether you are farming fish or harvesting from the wild it seems as if the industry is always chasing something. If you’re a fish farmer and you have enjoyed good growing conditions it would make sense that so has your competition which floods the market with product and drives down the price. If it has been a tough growing period pricing is good but you don’t have enough product to sell. If you’re harvesting from the sea you risk weather keeping you off the water, quotas being slashed, fuel and bait prices being high and the processor’s prices being low.

So what is it that keeps the referee from reaching the 10 count and knocking out these challengers to the industry? How do they not simply throw in the towel? What I’ve witnessed is whether you’re a beef farmer or a fish farmer, a crop grower or a fisherman the common denominator is passion. To say it is a way of life seems trivial, to say they love what they do doesn’t accurately tell the story either. Many people love their jobs but few of us face the adversity that these businesses do. Perhaps it’s the challenge to succeed where so many fail that drives them onwards. Perhaps their competitive spirit won’t allow them to give up. That’s what impresses me most about the many seafood companies we work with. They act like pessimists but at their core they are eternal optimists. There is always a better day ahead.

There are fewer small seafood operations than there used to be. That too seems to be consistent with the agricultural industry. They have been swallowed up by large companies chasing market share or strategic growth. It’s sad to see a generation’s hard work merged and sold off. Ketchum supplies marketing materials such as gill tags, lobster tags, and point of purchase signage. We are at the end of the supply line helping businesses big and small sell the seafood that they have worked so hard to bring to market.  I pay attention to how companies promote their product as they compete for the food dollar. But now when I shop for seafood and I am reading those labels and tags I really do have a different appreciation for all that went into getting my dinner to me.

So keep in mind that behind every package label, gill tag, or in ice spear tag there is a company and a story. Many are large corporations but some are still the family business.

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