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Product Spotlight: Greenlip mussels
Dynamic U.S. expansion projected for New Zealand mussels
By April Forristall
February 01, 2008
New Zealand's greenlip mussels have become a hit in the
United States over the past decade. Imports increased 90
percent from 1990 to 2007, with 2007's greenlip mussel totals
through October reaching nearly 24 million pounds, according to
the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"There is no question that the demand specifically for
greenlip mussels in the United States is dramatically rising,"
says John Wahl, president of Kono USA, a branch of Nelson, New
Zealand-based Kono New Zealand. "The U.S. consumer is realizing
that there is a superior mussel product."
Greenlips, also known as greenshells, are grown on suspended
longlines, making them grit free. Since mussels are filter
feeders, the water they are raised in holds significant
importance. New Zealand's reputation for unpolluted waters puts
a premium on the country's mussels.
"New Zealand is known for its pristine, clean waters," says
Conrad Esser, director of business development for New Zealand
Seafoods in Los Angeles. "Something other parts of the world
that produce mussels can't offer."
The frozen product's shelf life ranges from 16 to 18 months,
so product availability is rarely an issue for seafood
"It's a commodity that's readily available from six or seven
producers out of New Zealand," says Esser, whose company
handles both imports and exports of greenlips. "If the South
Island is having problems because of weather, etc., the North
[Island] can pick up production."
Greenlips' meat-to-shell ratio is superior to other mussel
species, fueling both value and popularity. "Immediate feedback
from consumers is, 'I've never seen a mussel this big in my
life,'" says Wahl. "The meat size alone is typically bigger
than the entire shell of a blue mussel."
After exporting bulk greenlips to the United States for
about eight years, Kono has received favorable response to its
recent push into retail, selling for up to $5.99 per tray at
stores like Whole Foods, and often replacing other mussel
species on shelves and at restaurants. Wahl does retail product
demos to help introduce and educate consumers about the
"When we demo the product, we typically sell out of it,"
says Wahl. "We bring a microwave and the smell and taste of the
product attracts people."
Still, the industry is not without challenges. Wahl admits
that without in-store demos, retail sales decline. Esser says
the depreciating U.S. dollar's effect on prices could be an
issue in the coming months.
"When we try to make an appointment to show the product,
often times we'll hear, 'Well, we've tried mussels in the past
and it didn't work.' We'll ask what type of mussels and they
won't even know, or it was that the price point was too high,"
Wahl says. "We need to continue to get over that hurdle and
show that, specifically, green-
lip mussels are an entirely
And consumers can be as hesitant as professional buyers.
"Two out of 10 will walk by [the demo] and say, 'I don't eat
mussels.' But others just do it out of disdain or they're just
not receptive to the idea," he says. "If we can get somebody to
taste it, it's amazing. They often end up not only liking it,
but buying the product."
The U.S. dollar isn't worth as much in foreign markets as it
used to be. Currency, combined with a short supply in early
2008 due to a late spawning season, raised wholesale prices
beyond the average $1.70 per pound.
"Right now prices are between $1.75 and $1.85, depending on
the coast," says Esser. "[In the past] the market has not been
able to hold over $1.90 for very long." But the demand for the
mussels is still there, and Esser says the market can handle
it, losing spot purchases, but not major importers. And Wahl
and Esser agree that the market will continue to grow. It's by
their own merit that greenlips will continue to do well in the
U.S. market, adds Esser.
Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at