BOSTON — By any conjurable measure, things seemed to be going pretty well for the sons and daughters of Gloucester as the second day the cavernous Seafood Expo North America approached high noon on Monday.
The traffic by and around the Gloucester Fresh booth was strong and folks appeared interested in what America’s oldest commercial seaport had to offer beyond the 2,000 lobster arancini that chef Todd Snopkowski and his SnapChef staff handrolled and handed out for the asking.
“We’ve really had a really good two days,” said Sal Di Stefano, the city’s director of economic development. “On Sunday, we set a record for the number of scanned badges of the people that visited the booth. I’d say at least 150. Of course, my policy is if they take a sample, they’re getting scanned.”
A dozen rows to the south, along a stretch of the teeming exhibition space called Massachusetts Avenue, more than a half-dozen Massachusetts seafood companies — including Gloucester’s Intershell International, North Atlantic/Pacific Seafoods and Cape Seafoods -- plied their trade.
Building relationships, sales
Mike Orlando of Intershell, who also serves on the city Fisheries Commission, said his guys filled two major orders on Sunday that were shipped Monday. One went to New York. The other went to Houston. Both were heavy on shellfish.
“That was really big because historically we haven’t done a lot in Texas,” Orlando said while standing behind Intershell’s exhaustive spread of fresh seafood products that included shellfish, fin fish, lobsters and scallops.
“If it comes out of the Gulf of Maine, it’s on this table,” said Frankie Ragusa of Intershell.
The two Gloucester guys were asked what percentage of first-time sales at vast seafood shows such as the Seafood Expo North America end up being regular customers.
“Hard to say,” said Orlando. “But I can tell you that the buyer from Houston came back today and added on to his order.”
Down the row, Gerry O’Neill of Cape Seafoods also reported brisk trade on herring and mackerel and plenty of discussion about the state of bait in 2019 in the wake of significant quota cuts to herring.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at how much we’ve done,” O’Neill said. “We’ve been busy.”
Those are the kinds of testimonials city officials want to hear. It’s been five years since Gloucester returned to the seafood show as the only Massachusetts coastal municipality with its own booth. While there is no debate that Gloucester’s presence has elevated its visibility and the Gloucester Fresh brand, it’s been more difficult to quantify the exact financial return from the city’s investment.
Partly, that has to do with the proprietary nature of the seafood industry: “What you don’t know can’t hurt me.”
Making a difference
It’s also due to the progressive nature of building a brand. It just doesn’t happen overnight. It requires time and an organic approach. It requires relationships. It requires being where you need to be if you really want to do business.
That point was driven home with even more force at the invitation-only reception that drew Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, U.S. Rep. — and possible presidential candidate — Seth Moulton, state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and enough city officials and volunteers to fill an ark. And of course, the city’s best seafood friends — the Scots.
The use of the kitchen and the special reception room above the exhibition floor came at the largesse of David Gibbons, who runs the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and who apparently has fallen under the Gloucester spell.
Referencing the city’s marketing efforts, Gibbons said the day was all about “giving the home team a chance to show what it could do.”
“Nobody leverages what happens in this building better than Gloucester,” Gibbons said.
And on it went, with Moulton, Polito, Tarr and a somewhat subdued Baker all praising the city’s resolve in attacking head on the problems and challenges of a fishing community trying to survive a shifting seascape.
“Gloucester Fresh is an opportunity to tell America that you have a choice,” Moulton said. “This can make a difference for our communities. This can make a difference for America.”
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.