Best of Boston
Seafood on the menu as Scots do business in North America
IT was the cullen skink that did it. They came from all around, partly because it smelled so good, partly because word had spread and partly because it was so different from the nibbles being offered at every other stall. It was day one of Seafood Expo North America (SENA), the massive event in the Boston convention centre which draws seafood producers, buyers, distributors and journalists from all over the world every March.
The Scottish stand was not the biggest or showiest in the huge hall this year but it had cullen skink: and that seemed to make a difference.
John and Catriona Frankitti, of Fish for Health, who organised much of the Scottish presence, started serving the famous smoked haddock and potato soup early on that first day and they didn’t seem to stop.
When all the other samples being handed out across the hall could be measured in millimetres, the generous cups of Scottish soup proved an undoubted winner.
In an event as big as SENA, where everybody is trying to make themselves appear bigger, better and brighter than everyone else, a point of difference is invaluable.
If the cullen skink was one point of difference then Mark Greenaway was another.
This chef from Edinburgh spent his days preparing dishes on the cooking surface at the front of the Scottish stand and only seemed to break from that when he was on the main stage doing the same thing.
For the three-day event, the Scottish stand became the hub for trade, meetings, negotiations and relationship building.
There is a section in the hall devoted to technology with water purifiers
rubbing shoulders with packaging companies but, really, this is an event for the buyers and distributors.
Some of the enquiries were straightforward: how can we get Scottish salmon to a restaurant in Pittsburgh?
Others were harder to deal with: I want Scottish sardines, I want them from Aberdeen and I want to import them into the United States in tins.
But John and Catriona and the others there dealt with them all, skilfully and patiently, leaving none disappointed.
What goes on in the hall is only one part of this convention, however.
A regular series of talks, lectures and panel discussions takes place in rooms around the top of the venue, working through issues as varied as sustainability in tilapia farming to federal fishing limits off the US coast.
But there’s more too, outside the hall. A meeting of the International Salmon Farmers Association (with the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation closely involved), in a corporate boardroom in downtown Boston, worked on plans for the first proper global communications approach to the salmon farming sector.
This could – and should – be an important development. The rationale is simple: if the regulators and the sector’s critics communicate across borders, then the PR teams should do so too.
For a convention newbie, like myself, the expo was invaluable for learning from others: the Canadian east coast farmers, the west coast farmers, the salmon producers from Maine, from Chile, from Norway and from Iceland.
All have associations similar to the SSPO, all have been through – and are going through – similar issues as the Scottish sector and, as I found on every occasion and at every meeting with them, all have valuable advice and guidance to offer.
It is easy to believe the expo is a success for everyone: it may not be.
Left and opposite: Scottish seafood on show in Boston.