The holiday's fevered gift buying brings an increase in sales for some businesses on the Kenai Peninsula. But for area seafood processors, winter means having to work harder to keep the business afloat.
"When we're in full swing, we have about 130 employees. But this time of year there are very few of us," said Snug Harbor's Paul Dale. "We try to keep the business going all year, but probably we'll have a short down period from now until Pacific cod starts in late February."
Focusing on business outside of the peninsula is common for processors.
"Like most processing companies in our area, we sell most of our products overseas," Dale said.
The majority of Snug Harbor's business comes from frozen salmon, but there also is a market for fresh and canned salmon, as well as two products made from salmon roe -- sijiko, a traditional egg product left in whole skeins, brined and frozen; and ikura, a caviar-like preparation.
Dale said both are very popular in Japan, Europe and the United States.
"Quite a lot of the ikura produced on the Kenai Peninsula comes from Prince William Sound salmon," Dale said. "A lot of people probably don't understand the volume of product processed on the Kenai Peninsula actually comes from other areas."
Snug Harbor gets black cod from the Gulf of Alaska, all the way from the waters of Southeast to the Aleutians, with the majority coming from the Central Gulf. The company also deals in other types of seafood in smaller quantities, including halibut and fresh shellfish from Kachemak Bay.
"The business is changing so rapidly," said Dale, who has been with Snug Harbor for 10 years. According to him, the driving force of the changes is extremely successful fish farming around the world.
"It's more difficult to sell Alaskan salmon products in traditional markets, as least in the levels we've been accustomed to," Dale said. "Our niche has historically been Cook Inlet sockeye salmon. But we've had a succession of sockeye seasons where there was either a poor market or poor return in terms of volume. This year we had both."
Dale looked forward to picking up tips at Wednesday's seafood forum sponsored by the Kenai Peninsula Borough and organized by the World Trade Center (See related story, page A-1). Specifically, he kept his eyes open for ideas on product development and marketing.
"I think that it's always interesting to talk to people knowledgeable about seafood markets and seafood marketing," Dale said.
Diversifying has been the key to success for Tustumena Smokehouse Shop, said spokesperson Laura Lahndt. Besides salmon, the business also carries king crab, shrimp and scallops from Petersburg and Dutch Harbor and sells smoked salmon in vacuum-packed containers.
Like Snug Harbor, Tustumena Smokehouse also reaches outside the seafood market.
"We take in wild game to process and we'll make anything -- sausage, bacon, ham," Lahndt said.
The company also sells turkeys, prepares gift packs for the holidays and does "a lot of shipping out of state."
"The holiday season is kind of big for us in the retail store," she said. "People cook a lot of seafood during the holidays."
Employee count doesn't change much for this small business, but hours worked do. The five to six summer employees get a lot of hours, according to Lahndt. But in the winter, the Smokehouse cuts back to three full-time and one part-time employee.
"It'll slow down a lot more after the holidays," she said. "We'll be changing our hours to five days a week."
For Ed's Kasilof Seafoods, winters are very quiet. Run by Ida Trujillo and her son James, the family-owned operation has commercial fishing roots dating back 21 years. In 1991, they decided to switch their emphasis, focusing on the sport fish market. Though only open from May through mid-September, the Trujillos were told by Federal Express that they were the second largest shipper of orders on the peninsula last summer.
Jim and Donna Toci began Anchor Point Seafoods seven years ago. No newcomers to area, Jim has been in the state for 47 years, Donna was born in Alaska and they have a commercial fishing background. Anchor Point has been their home since 1970.
Keeping it in the family, the crew at Anchor Point Seafoods includes the Tocis' three children and three grandchildren. Their daughter, Lydette Ingram, manages the business.
"We're a small processor, trying to stay centered and not get too scattered," Jim Toci said. "We handle both sport-caught and commercial fish."
The first two years in business, Anchor Point Seafoods grew from a gazebo, a hose and a fan, to a processing plant. The next couple of years were spent developing products, two of which are Cajun smoked salmon and spicy habanero smoked salmon.
"We smoke and can Kenai River reds with pepper in the can," Toci said of the habanero recipe. "It has a really good flavor."
Tasty though it may be, Toci said they haven't sold a lot of it. Which was why they attended Wednesday's seafood forum.
"Niche marketing is what we're really interested in," he said.
Committed to the business, the Tocis searched long and hard for a smoker that would gain health-inspection approval and would produce the same taste as their wood smoker.
"We finally found one in England," Toci said.
The family business also distributes about 300 mailers in and out of state. Addresses come from a customer database. A new Web site also makes the company more accessible outside the area.
"We've only been at this for six or seven years, so we don't know if its going to work or not," Toci said. "But we want to get as much information as we can."
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