March 13th, 2017
By: Jeanine Stewart, UnderCurrent News
Seattle, Washington-based Keyport isn’t interested in playing it safe.
That’s why the US seafood distributor’s first-ever own-brand frozen dinners aren’t a fish stick or another iteration of salmon with rice.
They’re three different versions of ravioli—king crab, wild smoked salmon and wild Mexican shrimp.
“It’s a luxury splurge item,” CEO Mark Pedersen told Undercurrent News.
Launched in time for the company’s 20th anniversary on March 13, the product now retails at $9.99 in Kroger stores and select banners nationwide.
The self-described foodie jointly acquired Keyport with his brother Kurt Pedersen, now chief operating officer, from his father Darryl Pedersen in recent years.
Since then, the two have established steady growth through strong financing strategies, enabling them to be a steady and reliable source of support to their Alaskan and international suppliers, Matthew Bleeker, director of product management, told Undercurrent.
Now seems a ripe time for risk-taking, with sales having reached a record high in 2016. Darryl, the founder and chairman of the board, said of his sons, “Their management skills have taken the company to new levels exceeding my expectations”.
Mark’s approach is creative and collaborative. He routinely talks shop on product innovation with Bleeker, who was hired in 2015 after nearly two-decade career in technology marketing and product development for several companies, including Microsoft.
Speaking with Undercurrent in the company’s office off Shilshole Avenue, just down the road from seafood culinary hot spots such as The Walrus and The Carpenter and Ray’s Boathouse, he espouses a strong interest in gathering ideas from people with backgrounds outside of seafood for their creative approach. Although he grew up around the business, he himself comes to the industry from Columbia Goods, a retail distribution company he founded, which he sold to Keyport in 2007.
True to form, his approach to product development steps outside the norm for the seafood industry. Instead of beginning with cost analysis—a common tendency for this slim-margin industry—the company takes a culinary approach.
“Mark is definitely a foodie,” Bleeker told Undercurrent.
“I use the filter of what I’d want to buy,” Mark explained. “We’re all foodies here. We’re also risk takers, so we had a lot of ideas that got us to this point, and I think that when you look at it and place it, we’re really proud of it.”
The product development process had plenty of fodder to work with from Keyport’s home base of Seattle. The city ranked number five in the nation on Zagat.com’s Hottest Food Cities of 2016 list, released last November.
Being the main destination port city for Alaska seafood and the main market for Puget Sound commercial fisheries, from rockfish to salmon to clams, creating plenty of opportunity for restaurants to experiment.
Ultimately, Keyport landed on ravioli for its value-add because it’s “a little rustic”, Mark said, adding, “It has a high value at a really good price.”
The time is ripe for risk taking, with 2016 sales hitting a record high. Keyport also has a well-diversified base of suppliers who depend on it for consistent sales, Bleeker and Mark told Undercurrent.
Mark notes that while the $9.99 price point pushes the envelope for some of its customers, it’s drastically less than what it would cost for consumers to assemble their own versions of such dishes. For instance, king crab alone currently retails for about $24 per pound at retail.
Re-printed with permission of UnderCurrent News.