It may not be sexy, but the label is accurate.
In the war to certify Alaska salmon as an organic food, Capalino Pacific has added a label that's helped sales -- even though the moniker runs a little long.
Instead of tagging its product "organic," the Bristol Bay company labels its salmon "certified sustainably wild and organically processed.''
"'Organic' is a lot sexier, but it seems accurate to say the salmon is wild and that it is sustainable,'' said Jon Saarheim of Capalino Pacific.
"Wild is what our fish are and we really want to promote that,'' Saarheim said.
A cooperative of fishers partially owned by the Bristol Bay Economic Council, Capalino Pacific started its migration toward an organic label three years ago.
"It's been a long journey and we're learning as we go,'' Saarheim said. "Organic food gets a premium in the marketplace, and as a primary producer, our backs are against the wall,'' he said. "The only way to move ahead is to expand our markets and get superior products in the marketplace.''
Despite the organic food market's alternative stereotype, the natural foods industry commands a substantial, and growing, portion of today's food industry. An organic label adds significant value to a product, sometime 20 to 30 percent more than non-organic food, said Saarheim.
Alaskans have been fighting to get their salmon labeled "organic.'' However, foods can receive that moniker only if they come from managed systems that control every aspect of production. Alaska's wild salmon, although pure and natural, are not controlled so they don't fit into the criteria established by the National Organic Standard Boards.
"The organic community is concerned about the integrity of the label. Introducing a wild product into the market is a big change,'' said Brenda Belknap of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which promotes Alaska seafood throughout the world.
Despite Bristol Bay's pristine environment and sustainable fishing runs, Capalino Pacific fish are still wild, Saarheim said.
"Organic certification does not guarantee purity of product. It guarantees the production process,'' he said. "In the organic community, they hear 'organic fish' and they think 'farm fish' because it's a controlled environment. We're taking the high road by giving up organic. In the long term, it's confusing.''
Capalino has been wise in its approach, said Belknap from her office in Juneau.
"They've tread softly and been very sensitive to the organic community, and yet they have differentiated their fish,'' she said. "You don't want any kind of backlash from the organic community to hurt your product.''
Hence, the wordy label that has worked well for the company, Saarheim said.
"Sales are good. We're finding a strong marketplace in the U.S. and in Europe,'' he said. "We think this is the future.''
Joan Pardes is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.
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