Saturday, April 21, 2007

Global Food Alaska - 2007

Only once in a blue moon does a workable solution in the seafood industry come along, and this is one of those times. A chance for the aspiring Alaska fish monger to go to a Boston Seafood type show, right in his own back yard.

If only more buyers knew that fishermen are often literally giving away their herring catches.

When you think about it, Alaska has all "the good stuff," so why shouldn't buyers want to come to Alaska, in the summer, to meet ALL the suppliers? And maybe do a little sport fishing? It's the little processors, that are trying hardest, and succeeding, quality-wise, that are not seen outside of Alaska. You want the "real good stuff?" come to Soldotna, AK on June 13th and 14th.

Robin says there are some great opportunities coming to the show for the smaller suppliers: folks that want the best and want the story behind the particular fish they get. These up-scale chains want a supply chain partner, not a commodity "off the shelf." And some TV personality type fishermen will be there. You can probably guess who they are. This show doesn't stop at seafood either, it includes all Alaska food and supply chain stakeholders. Here's what she sent me recently:

Dear John,

It’s been a long winter in Alaska, but spring has finally arrived. Seeds are soon to be sown on the local farms, food processors throughout Alaska are upgrading or installing new equipment, boats are being provisioned and new companies with new products are coming on line. It is a new start to a new Alaska harvest and production season.

While AlaskaCafé often reports on the political and governmental issues associated with the fishing industry, of which I am no expert, I thought spring might be a good time to create a dialogue on an often less-discussed aspect – the marketplace.

“It takes a village” is a well-understood phrase recognizing the many individuals required to establish a community of growth and well-being. It is no different for Alaska’s food industry. I believe it is time we work together to meet the market’s demand for good, healthy, safe food in a way that we have never worked before.

The marketplace is rapidly increasing demands on its harvesters, producers and their supply chain partners.

  • Local. Local food sourcing is the fastest growing segment of the food market. Don’t get me wrong – it is not the largest segment, but growing most rapidly. Why? Support for local food producers (economic development), reduction of food miles (fresher/healthier), reduction of carbon print (energy required to produce the food) and maybe the most important local knowledge growth of the foods we eat (health). Note Bon Appetit Management Group’s announcement slated for April 22nd about their local sourcing policies – just one of many of the international leaders radically changing the way they do business. While there is a lot of independent interest and a number of individual initiatives in Alaska to respond to the local movement, we are unable to grow businesses responsive to this without nutritionists, distributors, brokers, policy makers, manufacturers and buyers at the same table at the same time
  • Sustainability. A huge market driver for food products in general and seafood specifically. We generally talk about sustainability, as it applies to the health of the ocean, but it goes well beyond that in most industry related circles to include environmental impact – as one writer reported last week from “seed to sewer”. It is no small task to respond to this issue and there is no global consensus, but there are task forces meeting, legislation being drafted and new groups being formed around the world to tackle these issues, as they apply to food. We should be at the table or create a table for others to join us to get the best possible understanding so that we may all move forward, where possible, together.
  • Certifications and Regulation Abound Kosher, Healthy Heart, Cargo 2000, Marine Stewardship Council, 5 A Day, Alaska Grown, ISO 9000, Organic, Cool Chain, Serve Safe, FDA, etc. The list of required by regulation and those used for marketing to assure customers of confidence in the product all have associated costs and benefits, but what makes dollars and sense? Is there a table for us to discuss this and create efficiencies to adopt what does make sense?
  • Product/Producer Knowledge Buyers (commercial and end users), both want to know more about where their product comes from, who harvested the product, the temperature it was transported and the way it was processed. Some simply want a human connection (a face and name) to the product purchased. Some want the data to make an informed decision about their supplier and food source and thank goodness we have such a high internet saturation to meet the market through websites, web cams, video, photo’s and other state of the art chain of custody web-based applications, but how does all of this come together in a nice, simple package that is doable and affordable?
  • Nutrition Enough said. I won’t quote growth in costs of health care, rising disease such as diabetes or the latest books, movies or TV shows featuring this topic. I do remember listening to a food writer recently projecting that 100% of our future buying decisions on food will be based upon nutrition. Clearly our food choices will be based upon some of the other issues listed above, but creating nutritious alternatives is big business and Alaska’s production of healthy, natural food products is a major market edge. So where do we get together to bring together our school nutrition programs, health care professionals, food producers and distributors to realize better solutions?

I mention these market-drivers, because we have some major challenges and opportunities, but it will take the entire supply chain “from seed to sewer” to conquer the challenges and to capture the opportunities. For that reason, we are inviting Alaska’s food community – the entire supply chain INCLUDING buyers to participate in Global Food Alaska – 2007 (

This business-to-business, industry event was scheduled to meet the national and international buyers' request to see us during the production season, however, it is not exclusive to national and international buyers. It is not exclusive to large corporations or sole proprietorships. It is not exclusive to harvesters or to processors. It is not exclusive to raw product or value added food manufacturers. It is not exclusive to major international buyers or to independent local bed and breakfasts. It is not exclusive to any political party or age. It is not exclusive to produce, dairy, seafood, plants or base ingredients. It is not exclusive to those shipping product out, nor is it to those shipping food product in or through Alaska. It is inclusive of any company or individual that adds value to Alaska’s food, beverage and bio products supply chain. It is for those who seek to be responsive to these changing markets and connect more closely with those that source their product. It is for those who seek efficiencies in their business operation and collaborate for stronger business. It is for those who want to capture new markets.

Wired Magazine’s current issue’s cover story is called, “Get Naked and Rule the World”. Their cover story refers to the new business philosophy of radical transparency and why smart companies are collaborating.

John, I hope that all stakeholders, and want-to-be stakeholders, will join us on June 13th and 14th, in Alaska. With the new spring season, I’d like to see us reduce our focus inward and focus more of our attention outward and on the marketplace.

Global Food Alaska – 2007 is an opportunity for smart companies to join together for radically new and stronger business. All industry stakeholders are invited and encouraged to participate, after all, you can not effectively work as a supply chain of one –

Robin Richardson
Global Food Collaborative, LLC.
Global Food Alaska – 2007

You can see she's spent a lot of time on this. Two years to date. She used to run the World Trade Center in Anchorage and has even traveled to South America and Russia looking at what works. This is going to be something that just keeps growing. As usual, when the first show is successful, everybody will want to jump on the band-wagon. But for this year, it's first-come, first-served for the suppliers and buyers.

I have a report by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation in Australia that says the seafood sector must add value. No duh. (This really does tie into our topic for the day.) They said adding value can be from more convenient packaging (The big processors have always resisted using convenient tins for salmon), or better communication of it's origins (ASMI only goes to shows far afield to promote Alaska fish and the buyers never get to know of it's real origins.) This report was backed by the Australian government.

Again, we hear that communication of the origins of the fish is important to the consumer. Global Food Alaska - 2007 is the solution to that oversight by government and industry in Alaska. Maybe it hasn't been an oversight, but rather, to put it kindly, just the way it is. What can Alaska do about low fish prices? This is one way, and not a small step for mankind either. Support for this expo now will no doubt separate the men from the boys.