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What's in Store: Sunshine state of mind
Wild Ocean Seafood Market pushes Slow Food, sustainability
By Christine Blank
February 05, 2012
While the Cape Canaveral Shrimp Co. in Cape Canaveral, Fla., started out as a wholesale supplier to its Dixie Cross-roads restaurant more than 25 years ago, the new owners realized that they wanted to branch out into retail seafood.
Around eight years ago, the owners — Sherri McCoy and husband-and-wife team Mike and Jeanna Merrifield — opened a 3,500-square-foot market in Titusville, Fla., which was once the warehouse that stored Dixie Crossroads’ food products.
“We wanted to bring this awesome product to the regular customer, not just restaurants. And, the facility was right there, so why not?” says Jeanna Merrifield.
Next, they opened the 1,500-square-foot Wild Ocean Seafood Market in Port Canaveral, in a building next to the company’s dock that was mostly used as a loading facility. They also built out Cape Canaveral Shrimp Co.’s wholesale business to supply primarily wild seafood to upscale restaurants in Florida. And they deliver fresh seafood to two farmers markets in central Florida, where they educate customers about sustainable seafood and the Slow Food movement.
“It is the nature of the seafood industry: One little aspect of it is not enough. You are basically running four different businesses,” says Merrifield.
Cape Canaveral was formed to be the first primary provider of Florida rock shrimp and domestic seafood, and that commitment has continued to this day.
“The majority — around 80 percent — of the fresh items are local. Of our frozen seafood, around 40 percent is imported,” says Cinthia Sandoval, fishmonger and marketing director for Wild Ocean.
“We really try to specialize in local, domestic product,” adds Merrifield.
The stores carry a handful of imported products because of the attractive price points, says Sandoval.
“In Titusville, we straddle lower-income and middle-income homes. We have a very diverse mix of people coming here and we sell anything from mullet to octopus to wild Alaska salmon. We have to have different price points,” says Sandoval. Wild Ocean’s shrimp prices are reasonable, adds Sandoval, at $3 to $16 a pound, depending on type and whether they are processed or head-on.
In addition, fishing bans in recent years on stocks that fishermen believe are plentiful, such as grouper and snapper, have forced Wild Ocean to carry some imports. “When we are regulating, we have got to be smart. We can’t base it on information that is gray. Every time we over-regulate something over here [in the United States], that money goes to an importer and out of this country,” says Merrifield.
The two stores and farmers’ markets provide an avenue to educate consumers.
“One of our basic missions as a seafood company is to help people understand what they are getting at one of our markets versus somewhere else. It is supporting the local economy,” says Merrifield.
Wild Ocean’s two stores carry between 8 and 13 different fresh species daily, including triggerfish, catfish, sheepshead, snapper, mahimahi, albacore tuna, yellowfin tuna, redfish, clams from the Indian River, Oak Hill oysters, squid and octopus. “Squid and octopus are a bycatch of the [local] boats. Those have sold quite well wholesale to restaurants,” says Sandoval. Wild Ocean executives are also proud that they feature local, wild catfish.
“Most companies carry farmed because it is portioned out and easier. There is such a proliferation of farm-raised, that you rarely see wild,” says Sandoval.
Cary Blank, owner of wholesaler Seafood Connections, also in Titusville, wholesales Cape Canaveral’s shrimp to south Florida restaurants and chefs that are knowledgeable about Slow Food and sustainable seafood.
“They have rock shrimp, whites, royal reds and others. The product is frozen on the boat, head-on. Fortunately, I am able to piggyback on their high-quality product,” says Blank.
Utilizing local, sustainable supply is a message that resounds in Wild Ocean’s stores and at its two weekly farmers market spots in Orlando and in Brevard County. In its Titusville store, Wild Ocean carries local, grass-fed beef, organic eggs, local produce and a number of items that complement seafood.
The point of going to the farmers markets is not to make a profit, but to educate consumers about the high quality seafood that is available from their local waters, says Sandoval.
“One of things that I love is seeing customers who started out with fillets and processed shrimp and now are trying whole squid,” she says.
Sandoval participates in other educational events, such as a Slow Food luncheon earlier this year, where she taught attendees how to fillet and cook mullet, while a Florida mullet fisherman explained how the fish is caught. Then, everyone ate a locally sourced lunch of fish, produce, bread and cheese.
While Cape Canaveral’s business will likely expand into other avenues in the future, the owners remain focused on providing high quality, sustainable Florida seafood.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.