Since their creation, hot dogs and hamburgers have grown and expanded to numerous varieties. From beef burgers and pork hot dogs, the products have expanded to lamb, bison, chicken turkey and other exotic types. With so many types of burgers and sausages, the notable gap in animal protein has been seafood. For the last 20 years, though, an Idaho firm has been expanding the seafood market to include products like tuna burgers and salmon franks, winning over consumers in the process.
“We make ready-to-cook frozen and refrigerated seafood products, primarily made right now with wild Alaskan salmon that’s sustainable,” says Mark Goforth, founder and CEO of AquaCuisine. The company offers both ready-to-cook raw products and fully cooked items that are sold at natural food stores, club stores and high-end retail chains across the country.
Goforth was inspired to create seafood burgers and sausages after seeing the success of veggie burgers. At the time, he was working for a foodservice distribution company and started experimenting at home with recipes for salmon burgers.
“It dawned on me that the seafood category was the last frontier to be conquered within branded, value-added protein,” he says. “I started delivering them in my red Honda station wagon to Whole Foods and independent, upscale grocers. It had success, and then I got a large order from Trader Joe’s, and that was the genesis for AquaCuisine.”
Goforth says that he has used Jennie-O Turkey Store as his model, as that company has successfully expanded its turkey offerings to include ground meat, franks, burgers and entrees.
“You can take items that have proven successful in the beef or poultry categories,” he explains, “and if they taste good enough, they look good enough and the nutritionals are right, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
AquaCuisine has had to overcome a little consumer trepidation over its tuna burgers and salmon franks.
“I feel strongly that Americans want to eat more seafood,” Goforth says, noting that the seafood smell during preparation and a fear of cooking it correctly keeps people from eating it outside of restaurants.
AquaCuisine’s products, he notes, have a mild seafood or salmon flavor, mixed with custom-processed meat seasonings to bring in the traditional hot dog taste. He says that consumer response has shown that the company has found the right flavor.
AquaCuisine uses underutilized salmon species, such as pink and chum salmon, to make the products more cost-friendly. Pink salmon also has the lowest fat content of any salmon species, making the combination of high protein, low fat and the presence of Omega-3 fatty acids a desirable combination for health-conscious consumers.
The production process with seafood is much the same as other proteins, though Goforth acknowledges there are detailed nuances with the formula and the temperature during the process. Working to perfect the process has required significant sweat equity and the right attitude, he says. AquaCuisine has developed strategic partnerships with food companies that have proprietary processing technology.
“We pride ourselves [on our relationships] with some world-class global production partners,” he says.
Goforth plans to expand both the raw and fully cooked side of the business, though the fully cooked sector will see the bulk of new product development. Product s in the pipeline include seafood burgers, gourmet salmon dishes and a frozen grill-marked salmon filet that can compete with a chicken breast.
“If the seafood industry doesn’t keep pace with the poultry industry, for example, with providing ease of use, than we’re not doing our job and will ultimately not grow the seafood category,” Goforth observes.