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Seafood Sales Summit

Gov. Robert Bentley (left) and Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture John McMillan open the Alabama Seafood Summit March 6.

Gov. Robert Bentley (left) and Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture John McMillan open the Alabama Seafood Summit March 6.

People who make their living selling seafood got together in Mobile on March 6 for what was billed as the first annual Alabama Seafood Summit.

Funded by $9 million from BP Plc — after its Macondo oil spill spoiled seafood businesses on the Gulf Coast — the event was part of a marketing campaign to repair the damage. The money is administered by the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, appointed by the governor.

“It’s been a long time since customers have asked us about the oil spill. But it used to be that the problem was we didn’t even have customers who’d come in and ask,” said Buffy Donlon, co-owner of the Wintzell’s Oyster House restaurant chain.  

Becoming more skilled in marketing Gulf seafood was the broader agenda of the conference, which brought together more than 100 attendees, including fishermen, wholesalers, grocers and restaurant owners.

Know your supplier, all the way back to the ship captain, says Whole Foods buyer Abbatt Story.

“Buying local starts with buyers who know who supplies the product — not just the markets they come from, but the backstory, back to the name of the captain of the vessel,” said Abbatt Story, representing Whole Foods in a panel session that also included representatives from the Alabama Grocers Association, wholesalers Sysco and Inland Seafood and restaurant chain owner Bob Baumhower.

Servers could be trained to better know and sell Alabama seafood just as they do with wines, said Baumhower and Donlon.

Fishing company representatives got a chance to network with grocery chain owners and wholesalers regarding the volume markets — more of which could be destined for foreign countries, advised representatives from the Alabama International Trade Center.

The Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission has hired Birmingham-based Big Communications to launch a branding and advertising campaign for “Alabama Gulf Seafood.”

An earlier ad campaign, “Eat Alabama Wild Seafood,” began in 2004, funded by a self-imposed tax by Alabama shrimpers. It featured celebrities, such as “Forrest Gump” author Winston Groom, and aimed at blunting competition from farm-raised, imported shrimp. That campaign raised $10 million before being scuttled by the 2008 recession.

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