Seafood International: Q&A: Jack Ventola, President, National Fish & Seafood
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As president of National Fish & Seafood, a Massachusetts-based seafood supplier to both retail and foodservice, Jack Ventola has the inside scoop on what it takes to sell more seafood. He spoke to Seafood International about sustainability, effective marketing techniques and the surprising new trends that are cropping up in the industry.
How long have you been the president of National Fish & Seafood and how did you get to this position? I started over 35 years ago in the seafood world as a trader, learning the ropes and soaking in as much as I could. I learned about the way the business worked regionally, nationally and globally. There was a lot to absorb, and I saw a tremendous opportunity to grow a career. Looking back — I was in the right place at the right time and I found a great platform to make valuable connections and see where there were unmet needs in the market that I would work to fill. In those days, it was all about quick networking, building trust and seeing opportunities that you could respond to in an instant. As I began working with buyers and sellers in different areas of the world, I learned that building trust in different cultures required entirely different skill sets — I learned by doing in many cases, and it taught me valuable lessons that still serve me well in business dealings all over the globe.
What are your main responsibilities? I am responsible for the strategic direction, overall growth and the vitality of our entire operation at National Fish & Seafood. I also oversee the culture of our growing company, and work very hard to see that we remain true to our roots, running the business much like a family business even as we grow larger.
What are your top selling seafood species? Are you seeing any changes in what customers are asking for? We’ve seen an evolution in the market with increasing interest from our customers in more global flavors with Mediterranean and Spanish influences. We’ve tapped into these trends with a number of new flavors such as Jalapeno Tenders and Southwest Tortilla Cod and are offering a unique and diverse range of seafood to feed the consumer’s passion for discovery. Our product offerings include Seafood Paella, Buffalo Popcorn Shrimp, Southern Country Fried Shrimp and Salmon Burgers. And our popular line of Stuffed Clams, including New England Style, which is the #1 seafood appetizer in the US, now includes Chili Lime, Bacon & Cheese and Chorizo flavors. The Matlaw’s line of seafood products offers seafood lovers a taste of our hometown, Gloucester, Massachusetts, as well as a variety of internationally-inspired items.
“What worked over the past few years is not necessarily a formula for future success.”
How are sustainability concerns affecting your job? Sustainability concerns have transformed the entire seafood industry in recent years and we see this as a great opportunity to lead the industry successfully into the future. It has become apparent that the seafood industry can’t meet global demand for future generations without the expansion of sustainable aquaculture. National Fish & Seafood has been a diamond sponsor of the [Global Aquaculture Alliance] GAA GOAL Conference in 2014 and will do so again in 2015, as sustainability is a crucial focal-point for us. We are collaborating with the GAA to create new sustainability and social responsibility standards to empower small aquafarmers all over the globe to be knowledgeable about best practices and educate them on how to deliver high-quality, healthy and sustainable product to meet consumers’ demands. Instead of letting smaller aquafarmers become marginalized as standards rise in the areas of environmental sustainability and social responsibility, we want to lead them into a successful future and help them thrive by being part of the solution to meet rising demand for seafood.
Please finish this sentence for me: Selling seafood to consumers requires … … commitment to excellent products, a passion for sustainability and a desire to listen to the market in order to deliver what today’s customers want. The market is dynamic and fast-paced. What worked over the past few years is not necessarily a formula for future success. We are constantly reassessing and considering how to raise the bar, how to do things differently and improve. This is what it takes to succeed. In essence, it’s being in the right place at the right time.
What is the most effective seafood marketing promotion you’ve done or seen? Why was it effective? Our rebranding of our Matlaw’s product line last year has been a continuing success story. We put a lot of strategic thought and planning into creating an entirely new look and feel with brand new assets for everything from our product packaging to our website and social media presence. The “Discover Matlaw’s” theme continues to prove that our image is in line with the modernized and innovative organization we are today. So much has changed since National Fish & Seafood began and this brand reflects our enthusiasm for exploration, trying new things and being open to new discoveries every day. Change is inevitable to business, so what worked yesterday might not work today. It’s important to take a constant pulse on the market and provide innovative quality products to meet consumer retailer demands.