In silver and white 2.25 oz pouches, chewy bite-sized bits of salmon are coated in what Dear North General Manager and Business Lead Anne French described as “provocative, new, interesting, and Alaska-based flavors,” which were developed with the help of several local chefs.
The result is a rare combinations of flavors and aromas: rhubarb and raspberry, sea kelp and sesame, fireweed and honey, and wild spruce.
An Alaska Native company
Dear North’s parent company is the Huna Totem Corporation, a village corporation established in 1973 under the Nixon administration’s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Its 1,401 revenue shareholders have aboriginal ties to the villages of Hoonah and Glacier Bay in Southeast Alaska.
As for Dear North’s conception, French said she was brought in by the corporation to bring the concept to life back in autumn 2014. “The direction was, ‘we think there’s something different here in Alaska, there’s something people ‘down south’ like and want, could you figure out what that product might be?’” French, who is based in the Bay Area, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The idea that emerged from all of our early work was that people [in the mainland] are totally in love with whatever they think Alaska is,” she said. “And in many cases they don’t really know what that means. They just know that it’s up north, and it’s beautiful, and it’s cold, and there are great pictures of salmon jumping everywhere, and bears catching salmon.”
So the team brainstormed 50 ideas to narrow down the product that would satiate the non-Alaskan’s love affair with the Land of the Midnight Sun. “What emerged from this is the idea of a big lifestyle—Alaskans are outdoors all year long, even in the harsh winter, and the food they eat comes from pristine waters and land that’s just unbelievable,” French said. “So we started with food, that was where our sources and strength were.”
The symbol of salmon
“As a staple of the Alaska diet, smoked salmon is a symbol of the communal nature in Alaska,” Lawrence Gaffaney, CEO of Huna Totem Corporation, said in a press release. “Up here, we share the salmon we catch and smoke with our loved ones.”
The original product Dear North launched before the salmon bites was the Smoked Sockeye Salmon, sold in 6.5 oz mason jars for $19.99 a jar. “I’ll often open a jar and pass it among friends as a sign of kinship and sharing,” Gaffaney said. It was nominated for Best Product Packaging at Expo West 2016 last month.
Their winning product, the Salmon Bites, was recognized as the Best New Meat, Seafood, or Meat Alternative. “We source our fish directly, their wild caught from the ocean. We know most of our fishermen, and we have a very high standard for the fish we want,” French said.
The fish are line caught, pressure-bled, and iced immediately. Then, they’re cut up into bite-sized pieces, brined, cooked low and slow, and then mixed with the herbs and spices. Each single-serve packet sells for $11.99 online and in Bay Area grocery stores.
“It’s the most exquisite fish in the world. It’s not inexpensive to catch fish out in the glacier waters,” she said. “The product was a marriage of our core strength, our sources, our heritage, and the market for it. There’s definitely a growing trend towards healthy eating, healthy snacks, protein, nutrient-rich, clean-sourced food.”
But in terms of branding, it wasn’t just about crossing off a checklist of what consumers want—they also intentionally filled a gap by designing a product that embodies a lesser-told feminine side of Alaska.
“We welcome men to love our product, and they do. But in the jerky category, [most products are] very tough hand chewy and marketed towards men. So we thought there was an opportunity to create something delicate, bite-sized, not too chewy,” she said.
Another thing is there was the opportunity to tell a different story. Most people are familiar with the male-dominated, men fishing, conquering-nature type of Alaska story,” she said. “There’s another side of Alaska that’s as rich, as deep, as pervasive, it’s about extreme hospitality and extreme ingenuity.”