"One of our bigger challenges is educating consumers that fish can be really good and really high quality," Lovejoy said. “What we classify as tin fish -- which I would say is really high-quality, European-style tinned fish that they've been doing over there for 150 years -- is unbelievably delicious, and it's about as healthy as it can be."
Bringing European-style tinned fish to the US
Earlier this year, canned seafood made a splash on TikTok, as younger consumers learned how to use the ingredients for the first time. And just as consumers have become more familiar with how to use and cook with canned seafood products, higher quality products are hitting the market, which is bringing more consumers into the category and growing the market, Lovejoy explained.
"We've got 16,000 followers on social. I love the interaction and what we learn from them. Our average demographic is between 24 and 44 years old. And I think that a number of things have brought them in, but I think the biggest thing is that there are now options for this generation.”
In 2018, EcoFish had the idea to bring over the European-style of tinned fish to the US market through its Freshé brand after they found a tinned seafood product with beans while visiting Portugal.
With that idea, Henry Lovejoy and his wife and business partner Lisa Lovejoy developed six globally inspired flavors and dishes to launch the brand, including Sicilian Caponata, Provence Nicoise, Aztec Ensalada, Thai Sriracha, Moroccan Tagine and Barcelona Escalivada. In addition to the idea coming from Europe, EcoFish sustainably sources as “many ingredients ... from the Iberian Peninsula,” he addition.
And while EcoFish is looking to deliver on delicious and nutritious seafood products, it’s also aiming to push the conversation forward about responsible sourcing and conservation, which had been lacking in the seafood space when the company started in 1999, Lovejoy said. “I think the biggest challenge that we faced early on was you get a blank stare when you say sustainable seafood for not only consumers but from retailers alike,” he admitted.
"It's come a long way... The seafood industry resisted it big time, but now they actually are using the terminology," Lovejoy said. "Everybody wants to claim that that their seafood is sustainable, but we keep it really simple, and that is—if it's not certified sustainable, then it's probably not... The blue [Marine Stewardship Council] label and the green [Agricultural Stewardship Council] label, you see them on all our products, [so] you can be comfortable with where it came from."
Is DTC the antidote to trading down to private label?
While many smaller food and beverage companies and startups have pivoted from primarily offering a DTC option to retail, Lovejoy sees direct-to-consumer not only being a major focus for his brand, but a way for food and beverage brands to mitigate many of the challenges and costs that come with trying to get into retail.
“There are a number of headwinds for brands that are trying to get traditional retail placement. The biggest is the private label trend. It’s an enormous threat. Basically, what most of the retailers are doing are private labeling the most successful brands they have in their store and kicking them out. So, the retailers are actually now one of your biggest competitors.”
On the side of the retail equation, “the distributors are getting much more difficult to work with as well,” with both retailers and distributors cutting even more into margins, Lovejoy said. And with a DTC model, EcoFish can directly communicate with its consumers on their needs and demand, he added.
“I don't see a very good future for small brands in traditional retail distribution. I see the future, especially for brands like us where we have a four-year shelf life on a tin meal, so it's made for e-com. The beauty of ecommerce is you know who your customer is, and that's worth a lot.”