Great Lakes whitefish marketing strategies discussed at first Michigan Seafood Summit

Michigan fish processors market their fish using a variety of methods.

Jill Bentgen (Mackinac Straits Fish Company) with finished smoked fish product in her smokehouse. Ron Kinnunen | Michigan Sea Grant

Jill Bentgen (Mackinac Straits Fish Company) with finished smoked fish product in her smokehouse. Ron Kinnunen | Michigan Sea Grant

The first Michigan Seafood Summit, held at Michigan State University this month, attracted more than 100 people. The morning session focused on topics of interest for fishery businesses and professionals while providing technical information on aquaculture, commercial fishing and fish processing. The afternoon session was more consumer-focused on fisheries, marketing and the future of the fish industry in Michigan. During the afternoon session, attendees got a first-hand look at how two different fish processors market Great Lakes whitefish.

Positioning any fish product in the market place is very competitive. One must understand the positive attributes of the fish you wish to market and how it compares to competing products. Several years ago, Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension worked with the Michigan commercial fishing industry on a Great Lakes whitefish marketing study. The National Sea Grant Program provided a Fisheries Extension Enhancement Grant to support the study. This study identified marketing needs in the areas of product identification/consumer awareness, quality control/product consistency, value-added product development and minimizing the impacts from low cost imports.

Amber Mae Petersen (The Fish Monger’s Wife) and Eric Peterson (Petersen’s Fisheries)

At right, Amber Mae Petersen (The Fish Monger’s Wife) and Eric Peterson (Petersen’s Fisheries). Photo courtesy of Amber Mae Petersen

Amber Mae Petersen (The Fish Monger’s Wife) and Jill Bentgen (Mackinac Straits Fish Company) both spoke at the Michigan Seafood Summit on how they market Great Lakes fish. When Amber Mae married Eric Petersen (Petersen’s Fisheries) she indicated that she was going to open a fish market and call it “The Fish Monger’s Wife.” Retail business was completely new for Eric. However, he did have experience with fish. Eric has fished commercially with his family at Petersen’s Fisheries since he was old enough to hold a dip net. Aside from opening a retail fish market in Muskegon, Amber Mae and Eric have become vendors at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market. After enthusiastic feedback from the market’s manager, Amber Mae started selling fresh whitefish fillets at the market in June 2010. So far, “The Fish Monger’s Wife” has been a huge success at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market. Area residents are always surprised and delighted to discover fresh, locally caught lake whitefish can be purchased at their local market. Amber Mae also sends out a weekly electronic newsletter to her dedicated costumers to promote featured fish products available in their retail market.

Jill Bentgen’s (Mackinac Straits Fish Company) business philosophy is that there are no short cuts to an end result, particularly when it relates to freshness, quality and safety. Jill acquired 22 years of consumer product experience working for a Fortune 500 company before returning to her hometown in the Upper Peninsula. The comfortable pace of the fish business and the small community lifestyle attracted Jill to return home. Mackinac Straits Fish Company prides itself on product quality, communication and delivering an exceptional customer experience. Jill’s company offers differentiated products that have a competitive niche. Mackinac Straits Fish Company’s product/business positioning is based on remaining historically authentic and offering their consumers high quality, affordable, brand recognizable products. She adds value to raw fish by smoking it, producing caviar, making spreads and selling those items as branded products which customers recognize for their quality.

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