“The idea for Real Oyster Cult came from when we would travel to our friends and family and we would bring our farm fresh, choice oysters and people would say, ‘Oh my gosh! These are the freshest, most amazing oysters that we have ever tasted.’ When we would hear people say that, we wondered why aren’t they getting that same experience at the grocery store or restaurant?” said Rob Knecht, who co-founded Real Oyster Cult along with his wife Sims McCormick last spring after operating an oyster farm together since 2006.
He explained the answer lay in the length of the supply chain, which often included at least three different handlers and sometimes as many as five, all of whom “could abuse the product with time and temperature,” which degraded not only the quality but also created safety concerns.
“When I started looking at the supply chain, I realized how antiquated the industry is, and also how much risk is involved being an aquaculturist and oyster farmer,” he said, explaining, “when you work very hard and take a lot of risk and have a lot of money invested in an oyster farm, it can turn around and your farm can be shut down if someone gets sick on the other end,” and that risk increases with the length of the supply chain.
Faced with this dilemma, Knecht told FoodNavigator-USA that he and McCormick thought there had to be a better way to get fresh, safe oysters to consumers. Their solution was to ship direct to consumers oysters not only from their farm from 70 different farms across North America so that buyers could experience the rich diversity of the shell fish.
Real Oyster Cult offers variety and easy access
As a result, Real Oyster Cult features three varieties of oysters on its platform at any given time, along with three others which are listed as sold out but show the diversity of the product available at any given time, Knecht said.
The company also makes oysters – which are typically thought of as a decadent, special treat by many in North America – more approachable than the competition by selling them in 20 count packs instead of as minimum orders of five dozen, as some other direct to consumer oyster companies.
“Even if someone loves oysters, it is hard to figure out to do with five dozen unless you are going to have a party. But we send you 20 for a date night or two 20-packs as a sampler for a small gathering of friends. So you can still enjoy oysters without being saddled with all these massive amounts,” he said.
With that in mind, he said many of the boxes of oysters the company sells are for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries or dates. Corporations also give the boxes as gifts to clients to show their appreciation, he said.
Even though gift-giving currently is the bulk of purchases, Knecht says there are a handful of loyal customers who will order boxes of oysters several times a month and some people have already requested a membership option where the oysters would automatically be delivered at regular intervals – a concept that Knecht and his wife are exploring.
The company also makes oysters more approachable to the average consumer by sharing stories on its website about where the specific oysters are farmed and what they pair well with, as such it takes a bit of the mystery and a bulk of the intimidation out of the food, said Knecht, who recently pitched his company in front of investors and media at Rabobank’s FoodBytes! pitch slam in New York City.
As for safety, the company assures consumers that the oysters are safe to eat by using technology that will turn a blue indicator card that is packed with the oysters a different color if the container was stored in temperatures of 50 degrees or more for several hours – the point at which bacteria can grow in an oyster and sicken consumers, Knecht said.
The company also is happy to field calls from consumers who have questions about the safety of the product before they eat it and, if the quality is not up to snuff, Real Oyster Cult will replace it, Knecht said. But, he added, this has only happened once when the shipping company delayed delivery by a day.
While the platform is still new, Knecht and his wife already are exploring ways to expand and diversify in the future. He says they are looking at other shellfish and seaweed products to help give their consumers more variety.