« November 2006 Table of Contents
Both blue and greenshell markets are poised for
By Lisa Duchene
November 01, 2006
Mussel marketers these days are looking to shrimp for
inspiration. Value-added mussel products, such as recipe-ready,
frozen meats, are the key to unlocking the full potential of
the U.S. mussel market, some say, just as peeling, deveining
and deheading helped make shrimp America's favorite
Blue mussels cooked in their shells, then vacuum-packaged
and frozen in 1-pound servings have already expanded the
foodservice market, says Michael Davis, president of PanaPesca
USA in Pembroke, Mass.
"We see a continued growth trend in this category," notes
But others think it will take more than value-added products
to do the trick.
"If you don't know what mussels are, why would you go to the
supermarket and buy value-added ones?" asks Brian Fortune,
owner of Atlantic Aquafarms, a Prince Edward Island mussel
producer. There is no shortcut to consumer education, he
Chip Davison, president of Great Eastern Mussel Farms in
Tenants Harbor, Maine, says the keys to expanding blue mussel's
reach with consumers are marketing and shortening delivery
"That's [what] my goal is, to try to get product from the
water in Maine or Canada and into the consumer's mouth faster.
Then they'll have a really great experience, and you'll see the
growth that you see in Europe."
Americans eat less than 5 ounces of mussels per capita,
while Europeans eat far more than that. Lured by the prospect
of Americans warming up to mussels, new players are jumping
into the market, promoting the bivalve as inexpensive,
nutritious, tasty and
"We're definitely going to be a player in mussels," says
Bert Bachmann, VP/general manager of Camanchaca in Miami. In
the last year, the company built a new processing facility on
an island off the southern coast of Chile to produce cooked and
frozen-in-the-shell, vacuum-packed mussels, which retail for
$2.99 to $3.99 per pound. Camanchaca has seen initial success
selling the product at the Price Chopper chain in upstate New
New mussel products and consumer exposure are needed to
broaden the market, he says.
"The general population hasn't had good exposure to eating
mussels," says Bachmann. "We've got a lot of work to do in that
The mussel supply has been stable this year, and imports are
down slightly, about 2.3 percent, from last year. In 2005, the
market saw healthy growth, and imports increased 14 percent
While the mussel market has not seen the explosive growth
marketers dream of, there are some encouraging signs of steady,
incremental growth. Many casual-dining restaurant chains,
especially Italian chains like Carrabba's, Olive Garden and
Bertucci's, menu steamed mussels. While growth in foodservice
demand has been minimal the last few years, at around 2.5
percent annually, retail sales are up about 10 to 18 percent
annually, says Fortune. A 2-pound bag of mussels typically
retails for about $4 to $5.
Educating seafood department personnel is helping boost
supermarket sales of mussels, which typically retail from $4 to
$5 per 2-pound bag. Stephen Stewart, president and owner of
Confederation Cove, a PEI mussel supplier, recently visited the
Pittsburgh-based, 216-store Giant Eagle chain to teach 100
seafood managers all about mussels. Confederation Cove
distributes in the U.S. market through J.P.'s Shellfish in
"They see lots of room for growth," says Stewart. "It's very
Retailers used to struggle with selling shellfish out of the
seafood case, says Bob Sullivan, president of Plitt Seafood, a
Chicago distributor. But that is changing.
"We have seen big increases in shellfish, in particular
mussels," he says.
Mussel buyers paid more for Canadian product in 2006, due to
the weakening U.S. dollar, which dipped as low as $1.10 versus
the Canadian dollar in June, a drop of about 10 percent since
Sullivan estimates the exchange issue has driven the price
of Canadian blues up 50 percent over the last few years from 90
cents per pound, f.o.b. Boston, to $1.35 per pound, f.o.b.
Urner Barry in April, June and August listed prices of Maine
mussels at 90 cents per pound and farmed Eastern mussels at
$1.30 per pound.
Kiwis lead frozen import supply
New Zealand is the top U.S. supplier of fresh and frozen
greenshell, or greenlipped, mussels ( Perna canaliculus ). Wild
and farmed Kiwi product made up 55 percent of total U.S. mussel
imports in 2005, representing 90 percent of imported frozen
and 59 percent of imported fresh,
The mussel season that ended in July was a bit
disappointing, as winter came early to New Zealand, prompting
mussels to spawn earlier than usual, says Bill Carroll,
national sales manager for Kono New Zealand in Monument,
Mussels for the coming year look bigger and healthier, says
Carroll, who expects the harvest to grow by 5 to 10 percent.
Demand and pricing have been stable. The average price for
frozen halfshells is $1.60 to $1.70 per pound to the importer
(slightly more to the distributor).
Traditionally, the primary product form is IQF halfshells
with the meat attached to the shell, but Kono is looking to
value-added products to diversify and grow the market.
Value-added products are welcome among retailers like K-VA-T
Food Stores, which operates 94 Food City grocery stores in
Kentucky, western Virginia and Tennessee, landlocked areas
where seafood sales are growing.
Mussels are an exotic in those markets, says Valerie Matney,
K-VA-T's seafood buyer. The chain sells about 50 2-pound boxes
per week of frozen New Zealand mussels for $6 to $7. (That's an
average of about one pound per store per week.)
"[Customers] don't want to pay that price for something
they're not sure how to handle," says Matney. "I think people
would be more apt to try [value-added products]."
PEI blues drive the market
Blue mussels ( Mytilus edulis ), farm-raised on Prince
Edward Island, are still the mainstay of the blue mussel
market, which also includes farmed and wild blues harvested in
Maine and specialty blues farmed in the Pacific Northwest.
Canada shipped about 13.5 million pounds of blue mussels to
the U.S. market through August 2006, primarily fresh, farmed
mussels. U.S. imports of Canadian mussels in 2005 made up 99
percent of live, farmed imports, according to import data from
the National Marine Fisheries Service.
In Atlantic Canada, blue mussels are grown on ropes
suspended in the water column from lobster buoys. In 2005, PEI
mussel farms harvested 35.3 million pounds, a slight downturn
from the 37 million pounds harvested in 2004. All signs point
to stable production for 2006 and 2007.
"This year has been an excellent growing year," says
Stewart. "There are all kinds of beautiful seed available, and
meats were bigger this summer than we've seen in a few
Water temperatures have been just right: not too cold last
winter, when mussel growth usually slows, and not too warm in
summer, says Stewart, which is great news for future
Chile contributes a tiny but growing portion to the import
picture. Chilean imports of frozen mussels through August 2006
were nearly 2 million pounds, 34 percent ahead of the same
period in 2005. The Chilean supply is year-round and can
expand, says Davis of PanaPesca.
"As growth continues, governments are setting aside areas
for additional farming," he adds.
Demand is also expanding in the niche market for
Mediterranean mussels ( Mytilus galloprovincialis ). For the
last five years or so, demand for the specialty mussel,
farm-raised at Taylor Shellfish in Shelton, Wash., has
outstripped production, says Tom Bettinger, director of
international sales. He estimates Taylor's weekly harvest at
about 35,000 pounds and weekly demand at about 50,000 pounds.
Wholesale prices this year averaged about $1.70 per pound
compared to about $1.50 per pound last year, says
Taylor's production of Mediterraneans for 2006-07 will be
around 1.4 million pounds and 2.2 million pounds in 2008. To
increase production, the company last year expanded into
British Columbia farms and began growing Mediterranean mussels
as well as the Mytilus edulis species. Taylor's B.C.
production, 75 percent Mediterranean and 25 percent blue
mussels, is expected to reach 600,000 pounds next year then
double annually for the next few years.
In addition to Washington's production, Maine contributes
about 3 million pounds to the domestic mussel supply.
Growers raise mussels on ropes suspended from rafts or set
bottom seed. Fishermen drag both wild mussels and the mature
mussels from seeded beds, landing about 3.4 million pounds of
mussels in 2005.
The raft-grown mussels, what Great Eastern Mussel Farms
calls "choice" product, wholesales to white-tablecloth
restaurants for $1.25 to $1.40, f.o.b. Boston, says
Mussels grown from seed that's spread along the bottom
wholesale for 90 cents to $1.10 per pound. Bottom-grown and
wild-harvested product are both purged in tanks to remove
Wild mussels, slow growers that can take seven to 12 years
to reach 2 1⁄2 inches and live to about 12 years, can be
inconsistent with imperfect shells and, if older, can contain
pearls. Harvesting from intertidal beds of older, wild mussels
has led to quality problems in the last couple of years for
Maine's wild mussels, says Davison, who adds that in late 2006
the product quality of Maine's wild mussels
Mussel buyers should closely watch the U.S. dollar against
the Canadian dollar, as its drop in value has been the biggest
factor on mussel prices. Expect a stable market as farmers,
especially in PEI and Chile, can increase supply in line with
Counting on Americans to gulp even half as many mussels as
Europeans is probably a gamble - at least for now.