A Sea Bass Journey in Social Media: Purveyors

Cross-posted on Chalkboarder.com.

Could a Full-Line Distributor Use Social Media to Drive Restaurant Sales?

Imagine for a few moments a scenario that might happen in the next few months – the journey of a Chilean Sea Bass through social media. Before I get to that, I want to ask how full-line distributors, such as PFG, Sysco or US Foods might use social media.

We’ve been thinking about this here at Chalkboarder.com and have a 48 hour scenario for you – a quick social media news cycle that could generate four unique and compelling messages for a restaurant to share with its customers – that those customers might share with their friends – which could increase sales both short and long term for the operator.

As a former chef, I know that the major full-line distributors have great seafood programs. As an example, let’s visit PFG’s fish buyer on the dock in Chile, negotiating with the boat captain. As the buyer concludes the purchase he takes a quick one-minute video of the sea bass with his iPhone and adds a message about his excitement in securing this amazingly fresh catch for chefs back in the USA.

He sends that video message through social media (probably through Twitter and Facebook) to the entire PFG sales force in the USA. We could say that it’s sent at 8 am in the morning. By 9 am the entire sales force has seen the buyer’s video – and forwarded it to all their restaurant customers. “Hey, check out the awesome sea bass that will be available tomorrow! If you want some, let me know now.” Compelling content and call-to-action through social media.

A restaurant chef gets this message mid-day, watches the video, and picks up the phone or text messages the salesman: “I want some – get me 50 pounds”. As soon as the chef receives confirmation from the sales rep, he immediately sends the fish-buyers video to all the customers of the restaurant in social media: “Check out the amazing sea-bass we just bought off the boat. We’ll be serving it tomorrow! Call for reservations and let us know you want fresh sea-bass!” More compelling content and call-to-action.

Got the picture? Wait, there’s more.

Next morning, chef takes a quick video of him checking the sea bass in through the back door and sends that out to the restaurants customers “When you buy fresh fish, you want to see clear eyes and smell the sea. Our restaurant only buys the freshest fish we can. We’re serving this amazing sea bass just in from Chile tonight! Did you make a reservation to get some?” Another compelling message with a clear call to action just got out the door.

At 11 am, the restaurant owner takes a picture of the great Chardonnay that goes well with the sea bass – and there’s another compelling message with call to action: “Tonight we’re serving Caymus Chardonnay with the Sea Bass special Chef is cooking up. We’re still not sure what the recipe is, but boy is that fish fresh! Call us and let us know you’re coming.” How many customers have called for reservations?

At 4:30 pre-meal, Chef is explaining the specials to the wait staff. The grill cook takes a quick video with his iPhone of the finished and incredible-looking special, then of the wine and then of the waitress tasting the fish and melting “Oh my god!” He sends it to the restaurant owner who sends it to the restaurant customers again – with the message “Our wait staff is swooning over Chef’s Sea Bass special tonight – we still have some reservations open – come on in!” Get the picture?

Let’s take this sketch one more step. Late that night, the chef sends the pre-meal video back to the sales rep, saying “We brought in twenty more tables and sold out the fish in one night!” The sales rep forwards that video and message to not only his supervisors, but also back to the fish buyer, who then shares it with the boat captain. Talk about a connected community.

The fishing vessel acquires direct connection with consumers, the consumers get direct connection with the boat captain, the sales force is motivated and communicating, and the restaurant is sharing trust and making sales. Everyone is in transparent community. Messaging is immediate and contains actionable call-to-action.

We’d love to hear your ideas on how a full line distributor could employ social media. How can the distributor build trust, help operators be successful, create sustainable community and increase their own bottom line through social media?

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Chalkboarder.com is a digital management and social media service firm operating nationally. We provide social web solutions to organizations of all types.

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Tags: distributor, facebook, full, line, media, networking, purveyor, restaurant, social, twitter


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Comment by Steve Paterson on October 3, 2009 at 7:18pm
..and there are many voids here which can be filled.
Scallop fleets out of New Bedford
Merluzza fleets out of S Africa
Karitane Lobster fishermen out of NZ
Mussel farmers on Prince Edward Island
Clam farmers in Cedar Key, Fla
Organic cattle ranchers in Cali
Lamb ranchers in Colorado
Yessir...the list is endless

I thought this was interesting what Bonefish Grill is doing....I don't think they have it all quite figured out just yet, but they seem to be a little ahead of the curve...

Comment by Jeffrey J Kingman on October 3, 2009 at 6:56pm
Excellent contribution to this dialogue on many fronts (seas?). Thank you so much.

First off, the choice of using Chilean Sea Bass as an example was purposeful. As a former chef (nine times exec in PacNW and New England), so many restaurateurs and customers love it and desire it. Many of them do not understand the sustainability issues surrounding this particular fishery. Also, so many restaurants and customers do not know where ingredients come from - the disconnect between the things we can easily procure at market and the lack of knowledge of where our food supplies originate from. It was intentional on my part to put forward this particular fish as an example, partly to increase awareness. Thank you to both of you for playing "volleyball" in that regard.

As to the concept, there are many different opportunities to use such a social media vehicle: livestock, produce, spices, etc. It only takes imagination throughout the system to devise such opportunities that the restaurant can use. The dog hunting truffles in Oregon, the hogs being fattened, the beginning of the wild blueberry harvest in Maine, the lobstermen in Stonington Maine heading out at 4 am, etc, etc. With such bounty at our disposal, there is no shortage of compelling content that could be created and distributed via social media.
Comment by Steve Paterson on October 3, 2009 at 6:29pm

Nice post and a good idea.
Fishermen and end users have been disconnected far too long. But perhaps that is by design...you see, there has been an eternal battle between the two for centuries. The fishermen (naturally) want the highest price possible for their catch. The end user wants the freshest quality fish...but for the lowest price possible.

The disconnect I spoke of generally gives the end user the upper hand and one needs to recognize the intention of fishermen connecting to their actual customers is increasing demand and value for their catch. I guess you could call this a 'catch 22'.

I am not taking one side or the other, I am just stating what is reality. The more 'connected' you are with the source, the more you will pay....fishermen are notoriously short term thinkers, but to be fair, so are many chefs.

How often have you seen a chef pick up the phone and call a supplier asking "what's your freshest, highest quality and most expensive offering today?"
More likely, the phone call goes like this..."what's your least expensive offering today of quality fish?" Certainly I'm not the only one who sees the irony in that.

Deals have been made in the past between fishermen and buyers for certain quantities at certain prices....and they always seem to fail over 'opportunity lost' issues. I speak of this from experience, not conjecture. The problem is balance and ones definition of 'fair price', which bizarrely is a moving target.

To a chef, fair price means value that coverts to some profit contribution for the bottom line (all others are a given...food cost, quality dish, guest perception etc)

To a boat captain, fair price means the highest possible return on any given day....which results in things like this happening....Captain X agrees to sell you all his fish at $5/lb which might be $0.50/lb over market, but Chef Y wants the connection with the source and can live happily with the $5/lb number. They both agree, shake hands and walk away happy.....then tomorrow, the market goes to $6/lb.

The fisherman's cost hasn't gone up...remember, he was happy with $5 when the market was $4.50....but now all he sees is lost opportunity of $1/lb in a $6 market.....and miraculously his catch has suddenly dropped dramatically and can't supply your agreed upon price and quantities...and the excuses will be endless, low catches, just no fish around, bad weather, honey h*** has dried up...now needs to go out further to find the fish and that costs more...blah blah blah.

It's simply the reality in today's wild caught fisheries. Balance and fairness to both sides is required for a partnership to work...and that requires a good understanding between the two parties of their respective industries...problem is...chefs aren't fishermen and fishermen aren't chefs. We all like the sex and romance of being connected to the source, but one needs to admit the eternal battle of pride is at the center of two pride driven industries.

A couple years ago, I tried to set up a partnership with a fishing co-op in the Maritimes for their quota of Northern Bluefin Tuna. Before the season opened, they wanted to negotiate a fixed price for all of their fish using the previous 2 year market average. It was not a coincidence that these two previous seasons brought record high prices and they knew it could not be sustained.

We came up with a happy number...and surprisingly, the market actually went up. Guess what happened? Do I even need to ask?

The concept was originally much like what Jeffrey is proposing in his blog post. Each boat was going to video the fight, the fish being landed, headed and gutted and the preparation for market.
With each order of 100lb loins (or larger), DVD's of the actual 'harvest' were to be sent to the restaurants for chefs and servers to give tableside viewing during menu presentations....all the sex, romance and connection one could want.

Unfortunately, the project was a miserable failure because of the market volatility.
If that issue can be overcome, something like this might actually work.

You can read a little more about the project here...it's a fun read

Now having said all that...Chilean Sea Bass (CSB...AKA Patagonian Toothfish) is in a slightly different class and there were some fundamental flaws in Jeffrey's post that I think need pointing out.

Almost all CSB is frozen at sea and catcher/processor boats are usually out at sea for 5-9 weeks. Most CSB is caught inside the Antarctic Circle...just glance at a globe and you'll quickly understand that this is not a 'dayboat' fishery due to its remoteness.
'Fresh' CSB is virtually non-existent in the North American marketplace....and if one is paying a premium for 'fresh'...more than likely there is fraud involved, much like paying for fresh wild Alaskan salmon, but receiving farm raised product.

'Re-Freshed' is the new 'Fresh' when it comes to seafood...and that's not necessarily a bad thing if managed properly. It's just that the expectations need to be clearly understood by all parties involved.

The bottom line is this...the concept is a good one and it is viable, especially now with Social Media and Foodservice getting to know one another....but getting the actual fishermen to realize that 'long term' does not mean tomorrow....well that's going to need some work.
Comment by Michael Biesemeyer on October 2, 2009 at 12:08pm
I like this idea of sending a message down the information chain. As social media strategists, I think that we should be creating industry specific touch-points along the way where each stakeholder can process the information and then add their own piece to enhance the message. The restaurant industry is absolutely teeming with opportunities for this type of interaction.

It's almost like an assembly line, where the product starts out "raw" and then, through a process of careful manipulation, ends up on the guest's plate. It's one big feedback loop, in the case of social media. The Chilean Sea Bass creates a conversation that is passed along as Twitter feeds, Youtube clips, SMS, and Yelp reviews.

The key will be to teach and empower chefs, managers, servers, food distributors, and the guests how to use these tools. Once this behavior becomes more widespread, I believe the community will simply run with it. It's just too powerful to hold back.

The great thing about all of this is that the conversation has an infinite shelf life. This information can be revisited and retooled again and again.




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