The owners of Ready Seafood have tapped some big names, including former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, in its effort to capture more of the global seafood market.
John and Brendan Ready recently launched Global Seafood Ventures, the Cape Elizabeth brothers' third company. John Ready says the new venture specializes in exporting frozen lobster products -- whole and lobster tails -- to far-flung areas where it is not feasible to ship live lobsters.
Ready says he recently attended a trade show in Dubai, where the brothers had previously tried to ship live lobsters. But the hot climate and the lack of regular express flights created too much risk in terms of shipping live lobster.
"We tried it, it was difficult and it didn't work out. However, they [can] take frozen. This applies to almost every other customer we deal with," says Ready, noting some live lobster customers are interested in supplementing their orders with a frozen product. "So we're strengthening our portfolio."
In addition to Cutler, who represented the United States in several international negotiations in the 1970s and led the Beijing office of international law and consulting firm Akin Gump, the brothers have partnered with Tom Dunne and Dan Boxer. Dunne is a founding partner at the global consulting firm Accenture, while Boxer, a retired Fairchild Semiconductor chief administrative officer, is a co-founder of Backyard Farms in Madison.
"We can be spoiled here in Maine, because we can go in and buy soft shells live and cook them, but the rest of the world can't," says Boxer. Customers are becoming savvier when it comes to seafood, he says, placing a higher emphasis on high-quality frozen products from sustainability fisheries, rather valuing only a live product of dubious origins. "As traceability and sustainability become more important, Maine lobster – frozen or not -- becomes more attractive."
Ready says the lobsters are humanely frozen alive, since the crustacean naturally goes dormant in cold water. According to the company website, there are three cutting-edge ways the company freezes lobsters: high-pressure sanitary preservation processing, super-cooled brine freezing and "nitrogen tunnel" flash-freezing.
Boxer says the group is currently testing various delivery methods, including sending 30,000-pound shipments via ocean freight and nearly 3,000-pound shipments by air. Once the logistics are worked out and the prices set, the company will begin marketing its products in earnest.
The company, according to its website, ships its frozen products from Eastern Europe to Asia, including China, where it is the preferred supplier for the county's largest food distributor.
"It's really been a great thing to watch it grow," says Boxer, who expects the company's sales to double, if not triple, this year. "We turned away business last year."
Ready says the partnership is separate from the other two companies he and his brother own: Ready Seafood and Catch a Piece of Maine, the latter of which seeks to connect consumers with lobster harvesters. Having outside expertise was something the brothers struggled with, but John Ready said it was necessary to launch the business and grow it faster than they would have otherwise.
"We knew we didn't have the ability to do it great on our own," Ready says.
He says each partner brings a unique skill to the table. Cutler has international connections, especially in China. Dunne, a retired partner in the global consulting firm Accenture, brings a global trade view and Boxer and his experience with Backyard Farms brings state of Maine expertise.
In addition to capturing more of the global lobster market, Ready says he hopes the new venture will lessen Maine's reliance on Canada for its lobster processing, creating value-added frozen lobster products here on the working waterfront.
"It can bring us to the next level for processed lobster," he says. "Maine Seafood Ventures is here to supplement [Canadian lobster processing] with Maine processors."