A recent New York Times article demonstrated that supply chain management innovations can come from some unexpected places. In response to some challenges with provenance on their product, Boston-based seafood distributor Red’s Best created its own software to track where they get their fish, and where it goes once it leaves the warehouse.
This simple idea has transformed fishery end-to-end supply chain management, and other organizations are starting to follow suit. Lovers of fish and other seafood are starting to demand information on what they eat, very similar to other food industries, and that means opportunity is knocking for small fisheries who want to appeal to responsible consumers who are seeking quality product that is caught in a responsible way.
The software developed by Red’s Best removes the need for paperwork. As founder Jared Auerbach says:
“[The fisherman is] putting their catch data directly onto the internet, and our whole staff all over the country can see in real time as fish is being unloaded onto our truck.” This beats the paper-based system, and allows purchasers to track a fish-specific barcode so they know who caught it, where they caught it, and where that fish is going in the supply chain.
I was curious about the company, so I got in touch with Valerie Rosenberg, the Director of Retail and Marketing at Red’s Best:
What would you say is the greatest supply chain challenge for your organization?
Red’s Best has gotten very good at offloading a little fish from a lot of different boats; our internal supply chain works as fluidly as possible considering the number of moving parts including weather patterns, fishermen’s schedules, seasonality and number of vessels. So really, supply chain overall is relatively a matter of maintenance and constant fine tuning. But one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for us is to keep talking about and exposing end consumers to locally-caught lesser known species. For example, we currently export 90% of dogfish (cape shark) landed in Chatham, MA to the UK to be used for fish n’ chips. The UK is in fact known for their great fish and chips. So, as a country, why are we exporting so much pristine, healthy, delicious seafood while simultaneously importing so much from overseas? So, really it’s more about growing species recognition to help adjust a somewhat backwards consumer supply and demand chain.
Jared mentions in the NYT article that the paperwork was a “nightmare” for the organization, and not a scalable solution. How did the team decide to go off and build its own software solution?
One of the best images that Jared has ever shared is how he and his wife used to sit on their living room floor late into the night sorting 4-part carbon copies from fishing boats. He talks about the fact that fishermen, who are very real people, would fill out paperwork slightly differently each time they offloaded a vessel… meaning the same person might be using different names unintentionally. This alone resulted in a headache of paperwork to report catch data. And that’s just one example. Jared, a huge proponent of efficiency, knew he had to streamline the process to be able to properly and quickly report all information to NOAA to meet regulations and guidelines. The software was built to improve that process – as vessels offloaded, the information was available immediately making reporting to the government faster and easier. The software also has done a number of other things of course such as making it easier for our sales team to move fish faster, resulting in fresher product to end consumers. It’s also pretty cool to see landings in real time on a computer screen!
It seems like consumers are asking for more information on where fish was caught, who caught it, etc.? Clearly, your software is helping with that. But why has the market shifted in this direction for seafood?
Absolutely. Red’s Best software definitely helps tell the story of the fleet and connects the consumer more closely to their food. It’s no secret consumers, in general, care more and more how and where their food was raised and sourced. Seafood is no different. Our software helps showcase hard working individuals and a whole network of small boat fishermen. Consumers are able to see the value of their investment. They are supporting a community rather than a faceless vessel out to sea for months or product raised in poor conditions.
Sure, our retail customers talk about investing in local fish to help keep our coastal communities in tact while reducing emissions but really… they always always always talk about the freshness and taste. There is nothing better than seafood plucked from the cold New England waters. The fact that our software links the fish to the fleet is the cherry on top.
Also, it’s important to note that the seafood industry has been slow to change. While I am not a fisherman myself, I do remember in the late 2000’s, media and educational organizations began to reveal findings that consumers weren’t eating what they thought they were eating. It was a huge eye opener and I remember it triggering a huge conversation of the importance of distinguishing species for the consumer for complete transparency. There was no going back… thank goodness! Red’s Best was coming on the scene in 2008 while this was all going down; Jared and Red’s Best were ahead of everyone else with this proprietary software tracing fish back to the vessel. Definitely great timing for Red’s Best.
What other supply chain challenges do you face currently? What’s the next step for your team and the software?
Like any company utilizing innovative technology to do our job better, we are always looking on the horizon for what’s next. What tools do we need to stay current as we grow and evolve?
The article also alludes to a lot of “seafood fraud”, and that “local seafood” can cost more for consumers. How can you combat this problem, and keep costs down for folks who want to cook up some fish for dinner?
Really important question. Honestly, consumers still have limited knowledge of less expensive, abundant, underutilized species that our local fishermen are landing every single day and in many cases year round. We find many retail customers are looking for species they are familiar with and feel like they ‘won’t mess up” like salmon, shrimp and cod. But the truth is, we have access to over 60 different species in New England such as monkfish, skate wing, dogfish, redfish, scup, mackerel, bluefish, etc. Salmon and shrimp aren’t even locally landed here in New England and we see requests for those every day. At our retail location in the Boston Public Market, we have really begun to unfold this idea, making a wider variety of species available that fall all along the pricing structure. We are also doing a lot to promote and make available “odd parts” like collars, cheeks and heads. These are gems and usually what fishermen like to eat themselves. These parts provide added profit for fishermen, too, and allow us to keep cost down. Seriously, where else in the city of Boston can you find a $5 cod head that has tons of meat on it and can feed an entire family?
What’s your favorite seafood dish? (Hey, this has to be a little fun!)
Obviously, my favorite question so far. I am a huge fan of both making and eating ceviche, as well as roasted whole fish stuffed with citrus and herbs. Both are great, cost-effective ways of making remarkable fish-forward dishes. I am a huge fan of anything that requires very few simple, quality ingredients. And both really make fish the star of the plate.