The farm-to-table movement has been in full swing for a while now, and it’s not slowing down any time soon.
In fact, numerous publications, including the National Restaurant Association, are predicting that locally sourced meats and seafood will be the number one culinary trend in 2014.
This forecast would spell an increased demand for Alabama Gulf Seafood and other Gulf seafood products. But that doesn’t mean Alabamians are the only ones who will enjoy our seafood—domestic products will see a similar spike in demand, which will encourage chefs and restaurateurs throughout the country to seek out our products.
That’s what led a group of seafood buyers from South Carolina to make the trip to Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The mission of their visit was a simple one: to give their customers more of the domestically sourced products they want.
“After 30 years in the seafood business, I had never seen where a lot of our seafood originated that we serve,” said John Keener, owner of the Charleston Crab House in Charleston, S.C. “I believe that seeing all aspects of the origination of where our products come from is very important in today’s restaurant world. The customers want to know exactly what they are consuming, where it came from and how it was handled.”
Charleston has lots of fresh seafood of their own to support their thriving food scene. But because their seafood is sourced from the Atlantic Ocean, the kind of seafood available is not quite the same.
Guy Lott, president of Sales Management Solutions, Inc. and sales and support for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, and Chris Blankenship, director of Alabama Marine Resources and program administrator for the ASMC, organized the itinerary for the weekend trip, which included charter boat fishing, a taste of the 42nd Annual National Shrimp Festival and visits to eight processors in just two days.
Each stop on their tour, which included Bon Secour Fisheries, Junior Barbour Seafood, Dominick’s Seafood, Bryant Products and Sea Pearl Seafood Company among others, showcased not only the quality and safety standards of Alabama’s seafood but the variety as well.
“They have limited supplies of shrimp and oysters in South Carolina,” Lott said. “Our Gulf products have some of the same characteristics as South Carolina’s product, and we can still offer the same close-to-home feel. The restaurant scene in Charleston is vibrant, and consumers flock to locally and domestically sourced products.”
South Carolina natives weren’t the only ones who joined in on the experience.
Chef Stafford Decambra, corporate executive chef at the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore, and Chef Pete Blohm, owner of Panini Pete’s in Mobile and Fairhope, decided to join the group on their tour.
Both Decambra and Blohm served as additional unofficial Alabama Gulf Seafood ambassadors during the weekend, but they also got the full educational experience themselves.
“There was so much to know and learn!” said Decambra. “It was impressive meeting first-hand all those individuals that served in hosting their tour facilities. They have such great passion. It was certainly an exceptional way of hands-on learning.”
Overall, the South Carolina buyers were very impressed by Alabama’s seafood industry.
“After every stop, it was nice to hear them talking to each other about how amazing the processor we just visited was,” said Lott. “I heard several times that they were surprised to see how clean, efficient and well-run the processors are.”
More importantly, though, these South Carolina buyers showed that they are ahead of the curve when it comes to the local-sourcing trend. These seafood buyers are currently planning to feature Alabama Gulf Seafood in their day-to-day operations—even those who were already buying our seafood.
“We were already purchasing from Alabama,” said Ron Pereira, seafood category manager at Sysco Columbia, LLC. “But we plan on pursuing more products from that immediate area and promoting more usage of products from Alabama. Between the contacts made, the knowledge gained and the overall fun, it was well worth the trip.”