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Marketing Forum: When will seafood be what's for dinner?

Pat Shanahan
By Pat Shanahan
July 01, 2005

Proponents of generic food marketing won a huge victory in late May when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the beef “check-off” program run by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association constitutional. This program, started in 1985, requires U.S. cattle producers to contribute $1 per head of cattle to the generic program that funds the “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner” advertising campaign and other efforts designed to increase overall consumption of beef. The check-off program raises more than $80 million per year for beef promotion.

The case was brought by cattle ranchers who felt that the check-off program violated their right to free speech by forcing them to pay into a program that didn’t always support their views. The Supreme Court decision is also expected to have a positive effect on other federally sanctioned check-off programs, such as those for pork (“The Other White Meat”) and milk (“Got Milk?), which had similar court cases pending.  

The decision means that the seafood industry must continue to compete with these incredibly successful programs well into the future. The beef program reports a 25 percent increase in demand for beef in the U.S. since 1998, with U.S. consumers increasing their annual expenditures on beef by $30 billion. During this seven-year period, cattle producers have been able to increase their price for cattle by $250 per head.

As a result of the court decision, the center of the plate will continue to be bombarded by well-executed, well-organized campaigns from every protein category except seafood.

It is clear that in the past 20 years, even in light of our competitors’ successes, the seafood industry has not been able to develop enough support to establish a national generic marketing campaign. But some new generic seafood efforts are worthy of note.

As the beef barons were fighting it out in court, the seafood industry in Alaska took a big step forward in establishing a system for producer-assessment marketing programs. The new system of regional seafood-development associations (RSDAs) allows fishermen to assess themselves to fund marketing and development efforts.

The idea has much momentum, with nine out of 12 regions of Alaska actively working to develop their own RSDA. The fishermen in the Copper River/Prince William Sound area are ahead of the pack, having just voted to establish the first RSDA in the state.  

While these programs will not generate the millions enjoyed by other center-of-the-plate proteins, the RSDAs will provide relatively consistent marketing dollars, allowing producers to plan their marketing programs over the long term. This is a big improvement over programs with limited funding that last only a few years. Regional generic efforts will also give more voice to those providing the funding, perhaps averting the infighting the cattle producers experienced, which does little to further the marketing cause. Overall, these efforts will improve the awareness, marketability and branding of the products featured by the RSDAs.  

They won’t generate the sizeable increases in demand and overall consumption on a national level that our red-meat friends enjoy, but they may reinforce the image of new seafood brands from Alaska for the average consumer.  

I still hope the seafood industry can pull that one off some day. And you can’t blame a marketing gal for holding out a little hope.

July 2005 - SeaFood Business

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