I’ve spoken to schools to get that perspective on what fish going into schools might look like. Now, I’m beginning my conversations with the seller’s side of things. I started with Fish People, an innovative, value-added processor.
Fish People is a relatively new company that is trying to create seafood-based meals that are sourced here in Oregon with no additives, while also educating Oregonians about our fish. They are beginning to sell to supermarkets (Whole Foods and New Seasons) and are also moving into food service, starting with higher education. I spoke with Duncan Berry, CEO, because a potential next step for Fish People (after higher education) would be K-12 education.
To begin his process in feeling out the school food market, I asked what does he need to know from school food directors?
First, Fish People doesn’t offer fish fingers or fish sandwiches. Instead, they are a value-added company that makes ready-to-eat entrees including a smoked salmon chowder, two coconut based entrees made up of tuna, and a salmon meal with a chardonnay reduction sauce (no alcohol left in the sauce, but might be difficult for schools). The amazing thing (I think) about his products is that they are shelf stable! They come in retort pouches and can be left in your pantry for 3 years. I would guess this helps schools a lot since they probably have a limited amount of freezer space (as I do at home). Basically, the two product categories he’d be able to offer schools would be seafood soups and entrees. Duncan would first ask, are those two categories of interest to schools? Then he could explain the specific options.
If the schools thought soup and entrees sound feasible, then he would have to have a conversation about the school’s price point. This might be new to the schools, as this is not a raw product, but a prepared food item that will save on labor.
His next question is, if the benchmark schools need to meet for meat/meat alternative is 2 ounces of cooked fish, what else do they have to reach? Fish People’s packets include other components as well as the fish (like the sauce). He’s curious where that component would fit into the meal pattern.
Finally, he would ask what distributor the schools work with. Fish People works with a variety of distributors, primarily with United National Foods. They also direct ship. Currently, they are test driving a model of selling directly to Oregon State University. They are able to direct ship 6 lb pouches. If successful, this might be a model that works for public schools, though we know the price point that public schools can pay will be lower than the university.