A major competitive advantage for these shellfish growers is the proximity of their production areas to roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population. The New York-Washington D.C. corridor also contains eight of the nation’s top 10 counties for median income.
Keystone Development Center (KDC) is helping the group to cooperatively develop its market through a variety of strategies. Rutgers Ocean County Cooperative Extension (Marine Extension), the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture are KDC’s partners in the development of the shellfish cooperative.
Shellfish farming creates environmental benefits
A growing body of scientific information is documenting the environmental benefits of shellfish farming. These benefits include marine habitat creation, removal of excessive amounts of nutrients from water, carbon sequestration, shoreline and bottom stabilization, wave energy attenuation and reproductive contribution to natural shell-fishing beds.
Shellfish farmers pay permit and lease fees for the privilege of conferring these benefits to the public through the course of producing their product. There has been discussion aimed at generating revenue for shellfish growers in exchange for the environmental benefits that result from shellfish production. The growers hope that a valid strategy is to leverage these environmental benefits toward the goal of generating a greater connection with customers who value local food production. Access to new markets and price premiums is a positive business outcome of forging these local food connections.
Eight to 10 clam growers and 12 oyster growers in New Jersey have begun the process to develop a marketing, purchasing and shared-services cooperative for their products. KDC is currently assisting the group with a logistics study for locating a shellfish aggregation center. KDC is also assisting its partners in the development of a survey that would gauge production volume and is examining the existing infrastructure and potential markets available to producers. The current transportation and distribution assets of shellfish growers are predominantly built to serve conventional sales to wholesalers in coastal and shore-oriented retail outlets, which are highly seasonal. One of their goals is to expand their year-round markets.
Forging links with food co-ops
In the next year, KDC will continue to assist the group with logistical plans for siting aggregation points, identifying area markets and developing transportation plans for efficient marketing. This includes connecting shellfish producers with food cooperatives in the area – a primary goal for the group.
The growers identified the development of effective, direct-marking strategies that emphasize the local aspect of farm-raised shellfish as their most significant marketing challenge. Emphasis on local food production is, likewise, a viable strategy for shellfish growers in other regions. Currently, more than 85 percent of the seafood consumed in the Unites States is imported, so the market is open for local products.
The MidAtlantic Alliance of Cooperatives (MAFCA) is being used as one resource to help develop the connections to food cooperatives. MAFCA, in its third year of operation, is a network of food cooperatives in the Mid-Atlantic area. KDC has been instrumental in the formation of the organization and continues to support this important organization.
MAFCA currently has 22 member cooperatives and has identified an additional 20 potential members. Within this group are 10 start-up operations, most of which KDC has been advising.
The food cooperative members have an estimated total membership of nearly 39,000 individuals or households. Current aggregate gross sales are more than $100 million, not including the projected sales of the start-ups.
MAFCA members are estimated to already be purchasing more than $16 million annually in local products. Representatives of the shellfish group have met with several food cooperatives in the area through MAFCA, and the response has been very positive.
By: Cathy Smith & Peggy Fogarty