By Lorrie Baumann
Northern Wind, which packages and distributes scallops from the Port of New Bedford, Massachusetts to the American market, is launching a complete refresh of its retail brands. Five Star and Captain’s Call, its premium brands, have new packaging designed to appeal to today’s upscale shopper.
The relaunch comes as the seafood company celebrates its 30th year in business. The company is also preparing to net the benefits of a $5 million capital investment over the past three to four years for a plant upgrade that expanded its capacity to handle about 100,000 pounds of scallops per day from a sustainably managed U.S. fishery that’s expecting an increase in its fishing allowances this year.
Northern Wind has relationships with 64 vessels that fish out of the Port of New Bedford. Those vessels typically go out fishing for a few days or a week at a time, starting each year when their quotas are issued. Their fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, an international nonprofit organization that safeguards seafood supplies. When the boats return to port after a few days of fishing, Northern Wind is waiting for them. “They fish and they offload their catch to us. They drive right up to our building. We’re right on the New Bedford waterfront,” says Northern Wind Owner and Chairman Ken Melanson, who founded the company in 1987.
The boats carry their catch in bags that hold 50 to 60 pounds of scallops, each marked with the day that the scallops were caught. Three bags at a time go into a basket that’s lifted onto the dock by a winch. Northern Wind quality assurance representatives are on hand to check the amount and quality of the catch, and then the scallops are dropped into vats that hold 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of seafood. From there, what happens to them depends on the quality of the scallops, how long they were on the boat before being received by Northern Wind and what the market is demanding at the time. “We look at what our customers are asking us for, what we need to put up, whether it’s fresh or frozen,” Melanson says.
Northern Wind sells scallops for both the wholesale and retail market. Most of the scallops are individually quick frozen, but some of the scallops that will go into the wholesale market will be block frozen.
The company’s Five Star brand scallops are all natural, processed without additives and were just 24 to 30 hours out of the water when they came off the boat. Northern Wind’s Captain’s Call brand is another premium brand with no additives, but these scallops were on the boat for 30 to 60 hours. “It’s still a fine scallop but a little bit older,” Melanson says. Mariner’s Choice is a value brand that’s processed with additives so it can be offered for retail sale at a price point that’s friendlier to the consumer.
They’re all individually quick frozen and offered in 12 ounce, 1 pound, 1.5 pound and 2 pound packages for retail sale. The relaunch added the 12-ounce size to the range of larger packages that sell well in warehouse clubs and dressed up the packaging with a new logo so it’ll look nicer in the grocer’s freezer case, Melanson says. “It’s just more consumer-friendly,” he says. “It’s affordable and convenient for consumers…. This way the consumer can take the 12 ounces and make a nice meal with it and not worry about putting it back in the freezer.”
In addition to the MSC certification that attests to its sustainability, the packages also carry certifications from the British Retail Consortium, which certifies for food safety, and the U.S. Department of Commerce seafood inspection program’s Grade A seal. The scallops are also Fair Trade Certified – Northern Wind was the first seafood company in the U.S. to be Fair Trade Certified for scallops. The company attained that certification in 2017, when it produced over 1 million pounds of Fair Trade Certified scallops. Melanson hopes to double or triple that this year.
The funds generated by the Fair Trade program go back to local nonprofit organizations that serve the New Bedford community. The organizations are chosen by the fishermen themselves, and the funds are administered by Northwest Atlantic Sea Scallop Fisheries, the fishers association of independently owned and operated vessels.
Northern Wind’s 60 employees – closer to100 during the fishing season – don’t get a say in where the money goes, but they have a stake in the program because the company is audited as part of the certification process to ensure that it can trace each lot of scallops processed in its plants back to the vessel it came from and to ensure that its employees, like the fishermen themselves, are being treated fairly. “We as the company are involved. We get audited to make sure that we pay good wages and have good working conditions,” Melanson says. “Northern Wind doesn’t say where the money goes. We comply with the work regulations and the healthy work conditions.”