Would you eat an Antarctic toothfish? Probably not. It’s an ugly-looking human-sized fish with an unappetizing sounding name.
But chances are you have eaten it. That’s because the seafood industry has mastered the art of rebranding.
In the 1970s, American seafood entrepreneur Lee Lantz realized a fish with buttery white flesh and a mild, non-fishy flavor that was hard to overcook could be very popular. So, he decided to market it under the name Chilean sea bass.
The rebrand of Antarctic toothfish was a huge success. Fishing increased from only a thousand tons per year to nearly 40 times as much by the late 1990s. In fact, Chilean sea bass became so popular that the slow-to-reproduce fish nearly became extinct.
The seafood industry has lots of successful rebrands. When the pilchard was renamed Cornish sardines and consumers were reminded of the health benefits of eating oily fish, sales increased by 19%. The slimehead was rebranded orange roughy and rat-tail was renamed roundnose grenadier with similar results.
The most successful rebrand in seafood industry is likely the lobster. 100 years ago, it was described as the “cockroach of the ocean.” Lobster was considered a peasant’s food, only legally fit to be fed to servants a maximum of three times per week. In this case, it wasn’t a name change that kicked off the rebrand but rather the rise of the railroad industry. Fishermen sold it on board trains as a delicacy, introducing it to the rest of the country as desirable and expensive.
Now, the seafood industry is trying its magic again; this time with an unexpected benefit. The Asian carp is clean, top-feeding fish which is rich in protein and fatty acids – commonly eaten in other parts of the world but with very little sales in the U.S. In the Great Lakes, the Asian carp is an invasive species threatening to overtake all other species.
The solution to this environmental crisis? Rebranding. The Asian carp has recently been renamed Copi and marketed with the tagline Eat well. Do good.
While it’s too soon to know whether Americans will start eating more Copi, early results seem promising. If the campaign works, it will be another reminder the seafood industry has mastered rebranding. I’m hard-pressed to think of any other consumer category which has successfully rebranded so many products.