State officials look to hook markets on Alaska salmon

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003

JUNEAU Beef may be what's for dinner, and eggs may be incredibly edible, but Alaska salmon is wild, sustainable and chock full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

That's the message the state wants to send to consumers as it makes plans for a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign aimed at moving out the glut of canned salmon and building the Alaska salmon brand name. The campaign is part of the $50 million salmon industry revitalization strategy Gov. Frank Murkowski announced in April.

It's still unclear how much of the money will go toward advertising, but Margy Johnson, director of international trade and market development at the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said it could be about $18 million.

Half the money will be devoted to generic marketing of Alaska salmon, and the other half will go to processors for their own marketing programs in the form of matching grants.

"I think we have a very unique opportunity there because the farm-raised fish is making everyone squeamish right now," Johnson said. "Branding Alaska salmon has long been a goal and it's good for the entire state."

The state has worked to create an Alaska seafood brand for two decades, since the establishment of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The goal has been to give Alaska seafood the same visibility enjoyed by generic brands such as pork ("the other white meat"), Idaho potatoes and Florida citrus.

But what kind of financial resources, research and advertising does such a venture require?

The state of Florida spent $20 million advertising Florida orange and grapefruit juice last year, according to Department of Citrus spokesperson Nicole LeBeau. The agency also spends money on public relations and health research, and contracts with the Richards Group advertising agency in Dallas.

"We focus our advertising very clearly on one specific target audience: Moms with kids in the age range of 4 to 15. Mom is the gatekeeper, she's the shopper, and the vast, vast majority of times she's responsible for what comes into the house," said Dick Murray, a Richards Group principal. "No. 2, we are focusing on the kids too because we want them at an early age to develop a habit of drinking orange juice every day."

To that end, the group spends the vast majority of its annual Florida citrus budget on television ads, running no more than two at a time.

"You take your budget and you take your target audience and you figure out the most effective way to reach them. In our case, we use a combination of prime-time television, daytime TV, morning television and we do that on the basic networks but we spend the majority of our money on cable," Murray said.

The Illinois-based American Egg Board spends about $9 million annually on advertising, but its overall budget for advertising, research and promotion is about $18 million, said board President and CEO Louis Raffel.

The Colorado-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association spent $26 million on marketing last year, with half that budget allotted to consumer advertising such as the "Beef, it's what's for dinner" television commercials and print ads. The rest of the money goes to trade programs, said Carl Blackwell, NCBA's executive director of product marketing.

The NCBA's budget comes from levies on cattle sales. Every time a cow is sold, a dollar goes into a federally mandated program. Fifty cents of that goes back to the state where the cattle is raised, and the other 50 cents goes into the national fund, he said.

Blackwell said determining the target audience is integral to marketing.

"There's a lot of consumers out there, so if you didn't have a big budget, you wouldn't want to blanket the whole country. You'd want to find out where the demand for fish is highest," he said.

Ray Riutta, executive director of ASMI, said the agency is still waiting for direction from the governor's office on the amount of funding and the tack the administration wants to take. But he said he suspects the funding won't be enough for a national saturation campaign.

"My gut tells me that the amount of money that we have available will force us into regional targeting. But you get more return on your money doing that, anyway," Riutta said.

ASMI has some research under way to determine its target audience, but Riutta said the audience varies widely with the type of product being pushed: fresh, frozen, canned or smoked. Typically, the southeast United States is the largest market for canned Alaska salmon, he said.

"We hope that there will be a research piece in this (funding plan). There's a couple of emerging ethnic markets that we want to do some research on before we actually launch a major effort into those markets," he said. "We think there are some real opportunities there."

It's also still unclear whether the campaign will focus on American markets or extend overseas.

"We need to do some shoring up in places like Japan and an additional lift in Europe where we're getting a very receptive reaction to wild Alaska salmon. We'd certainly like to reinforce some of the growing interest in the Midwest. You just have to go where the processors are taking the product," Riutta said.

The developing campaign for Alaska salmon is being run through the administration with help from ASMI, but ASMI also runs its own campaigns marketing all Alaska seafood as a brand. The institute's newest marketing strategy involves the slogan "Cook It Frozen," including recipes that call for putting frozen seafood right into the pan or baking dish.

As a result of ASMI's marketing work, Alaska seafood is the third most common brand mentioned on restaurant menus, according to, an online restaurant trade publication, Riutta said. Certified Angus beef is first, and Oreo cookies are second.

But the state's push will focus solely on salmon, and Johnson said matching grants for processors are an important component of the campaign.

"Each processor has their own marketing campaign, and so it makes good sense to match them dollar for dollar or even go to some of their grocery chains and try to get the grocer to help match too," she said.

Terry Gardiner, president of Seattle-based NorQuest, said his seafood company plans to apply for matching grants to help with in-store promotions, such as product demonstrations or posters.

"The other guys have this kind of money. These other people trying to sell beef or pork, they're all offering various kinds of funds to help promote the product, and the stores go 'Oh, I not only buy your product, but I get this promotional benefit to help move it off the shelf,'" Gardiner said. "The funding the governor is talking about, this is a way to help make Alaska salmon higher profile and a better deal for these retailers."

Masha Herbst is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.

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