Direct Marketing Provides Valuable Opportunities for Gulf Seafood Producers

You’d be hard pressed to find more passionate salesmen than Alabama’s Gulf seafood producers.

Our dedicated workforce loves what they do, knows their customers by name, and goes to great lengths to provide a safe, fresh, delicious product to their customers.

Some of them even bring their business directly to the people.

The National Sea Grant Law Center (NSGLC) at Ole Miss provides resources for Gulf seafood processors to help them diversify their businesses through direct marketing.

The legal process required for direct marketing isn’t always an easy sea to navigate. That’s why the NSGLC put together a Legal Guide for Direct Marketing Aquaculture Products in Alabama to help aquaculture producers better understand the federal, state, and local food safety, tax, and environmental laws.

Sure, it may sound like a difficult process at first, but NSGLC is committed to providing these opportunities to Alabama producers. And for those who take the plunge, there are advantages to be gained.

Take Cecil Barnes, better known as the Shrimp Man to his devoted South Alabama customers.

Barnes has been shrimping almost his entire life, but in 2002, health problems forced him to change his business approach. He didn’t want to leave the seafood industry, so he began selling direct.

“It’s in my blood and I didn’t want to get out of it, so I decided to start selling,” Barnes said. “Not too many people do what I do in Mobile. A lot of people try this business, but it doesn’t always hold. It takes a lot of time and you have to have a passion for it.”

Yes, direct marketing requires hard work, just like any job in Alabama’s seafood industry. But it can provide a profitable outlet for any Gulf seafood producers looking to expand or rethink their business model.

Barnes is open for business Wednesday through Sunday, always parking his truck on the corner of Schillinger Road and Cottage Hill Road in Mobile. And he couldn’t be happier doing what he loves.

“I put a lot of time in to be in this business and I like to make sure I sell a good, clean product,” said Barnes. “We feel a great sense of community. Most of my customers are repeaters, and I know what they want as soon as they pull up.”

Chris Blankenship, director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division and program administrator for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, views Barnes’ business as a model of the direct marketing aquaculture strategy.

“Mr. Cecil has a strong following in West Mobile,” said Blankenship. “He fills the retail needs for seafood buyers in that area. Without him, a lot of people would be buying imported seafood from grocery chain stores instead of Alabama Gulf seafood.”

For any Alabama Gulf Seafood processors, distributors, or anyone else in the industry interested in direct marketing opportunities, the NSGLC’s direct marketing guide is available for free, and free online webinars are offered periodically.

As Alabama’s seafood industry evolves, direct marketing opportunities will prove to be a valuable resource for those willing to give it a try.

“There seems to be a growing interest from consumers in buying local food, which can be a benefit for those looking to sell locally,” said Terra Bowling, senior research counsel for the NSGLC. “While direct marketing has its challenges, it also has the potential to help aquaculture farmers grow their businesses and become more involved in their communities.”