Volume 7 | Issue 1 | Year 2011

Headquartered in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Ocean Choice International (OCI) has always viewed itself as different from similar operations in the Atlantic Canada region.
It has good reason to consider itself sui generis. For starters, it’s Canada’s largest fresh seafood operation.


Established in 2000, OCI provides customers the broadest product selection. For another thing, its operations and capacity are as wide-ranging as its portfolio: Each year, it delivers more than 150 million pounds of finished product to more than 30 countries. Further, it’s a vertically integrated organization – a boast that many competitors can’t make. “We control everything every step of the way, from harvesting, to processing and then into the sales, and then even into the marketing,” says Chris Curran, the company’s North American vice president of sales and marketing. “That sets us apart.”


OCI is well aware of what it can accomplish, but it’s not quite sure customers are. That’s why it recently embarked on a new marketing campaign – one that better communicates its self-perceived value and awareness. This involves better branding, a new logo and a succinct tagline: “See Food Differently.”

That tagline involves a pun – “See Food” and seafood; get it? – but OCI isn’t just trying to be clever. It’s quite serious about its message, which depicts three business pillars: customer service, product quality and sustainability.


However, this new marketing campaign doesn’t indicate a shift in business direction. The pillars have always formed the foundation of OCI’s mission. The company merely wants to make sure everyone – including current and potential customers – comprehends its purpose.


Thus, beyond the new campaign, this seafood company is staying its course.

Let’s look at the elements one by one, starting with customer service. “That’s one of our greatest strengths,” says Curran. “And as we’ve penetrated deeper into our markets, we realize that an element that customers relate to is sourcing. We’ve positioned our company as a main source. There’s no one in the middle.”

Adds Martin Sullivan, OCI’s chief executive officer: “We engaged in market research to determine what’s most important to our customers. We found that service resides at the forefront of their needs and wants.”

Or at the ship’s bow, so to speak.


But being a predominant source entails responsibility. “That relates to reliability – about product delivery and respecting signed contracts,” says Curran. “We’re reliable.”

This is not about blind faith but firm belief – and customers are true believers, thanks to OCI’s accomplishments, which involves control: “OCI controls delivery, providing customers what they need,” says Curran, indicating that customers can trust the resource and its resources. “Anyone involved with us realizes how we can control outcomes, as far as their needs. We have the necessary supportive infrastructure, which includes sales teams and offices positioned throughout the world. We can carefully coordinate customer orders and deliveries, and that’s something we can even accomplish right here in our main office in Newfoundland.”


The company’s second pillar – product quality – is absolutely essential for any company that deals in seafood. Just ask anyone who has eaten a bad piece of seafood (don’t go there!). In this regard, Curran provides a comment as succinct – and on target – as the company’s new tagline: “We don’t just offer quality; we control quality.”


This involves embracement and acquisition of certifications that other companies might choose to ignore – such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate. OCI is an active participant in that council, and it has also sought – and acquired – BRC, HACCP and QMP certifications. If that alphabet soup of acronyms confuses, then understand this: any self-respecting seafood business should court such accreditation. OCI has established a positive relationship with each organization.


The third pillar involves sustainability, and this is perhaps the most complex area that OCI has mastered. It relates to fishing practices. OCI positioned itself as a steward of the seas. As the company relates, its commitment to ocean conservation assumes the highest importance in its mission, and this involves working with the government, research scientists and like-minded stakeholders. Each entity embraces a single purpose: preserving sea life stock.


It’s not just the right thing to do; it also ensures the future. With that in mind, OCI actively supports research and development of new technologies designed to protect and grow seafood stock. “A strong focus on sustainability enables us to communicate with customers about what we’re doing now and what we’ll try to make happen in the future,” says Curran.

Those customers include large restaurant and supermarket chains, the largest seafood distributors and even some industrial end users. And the company’s activities take it across North America and into Europe and Asia.

Sail on Sailor.

This gets back to the present, and what OCI is trying to communicate. “The message involved a great deal of field work about what customers expect, and we attached that to our existing pillars,” says Curran.

OCI only recently introduced this new campaign – in March 2011, at the Boston Seafood Show, an international event – so it may be too soon to assess the effectiveness of its marketing strategy. But early returns are positive. “Customers are very receptive to the message,” says Sullivan. “What we presented at the Boston show was well received.”

But it wasn’t a message dressed in pretty PR language. It related solid information.


But who exactly is this company that felt the need to launch a new marketing campaign? OCI deals with independent fisherman and it has its own fleet. As such, it can provide a diverse menu of products. It offers the widest variety of species captured from its neighboring waters – think snow crab, lobster, coldwater shrimp, scallops, Atlantic cod, flounder, sole, redfish, Greenland halibut, mackerel and capelin, among others (think of savory seafood selection such as monkfish – a readily available species that provides a taste pretty much indistinguishable from lobster – as well as lumpfish, haddock, skate and squid).

It has an international client base – the aforementioned 30 countries – but its Atlantic Canada home base includes operating locations in Bonavista, Fortune, Marystown, Port Aux Choix, Port Union, Riverport, Souris, St. Lawrence and Triton. Working the waters, it can offer a selection and taste that many seafood lovers can only dream about.

But dreams need to be buttered with reality – and for OCI, that means growing the business. OCI was formed in 2000 as the parent company for a number of operating companies already existing in the Newfoundland fishing industry. The founders of the company, Martin Sullivan and brother Blaine, along with Iris Petten and Ches Penney, brought to the organization many years of experience in seafood processing and international marketing. Ultimately, they helped the company evolve into the highly integrated company that it is today – a company well positioned for growth.

This gets back to the new marketing campaign and what the company wants to communicate. “Our new branding aligns with a business strategy designed for long-term success,” says Martin Sullivan. “We source seafood from the ocean waters that border our land, and we’re as reliable as our supply.”


And that supply is reliable because OCI assumed the stewardship of the seas.

The company’s output is sweet – as sweet as a Beach Boys’ melody – and the company is as strong and resilient as a Brian Wilson lyric.

No one is ever going to put this T-bird away.

OCI sails on with good vibrations.

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