November 17, 2008 | last updated December 6, 2011 10:19 am

L.L. Bean's granddaughter launches lobster business | Linda Bean brings her family name and a formula for marketing Maine's most famous product to the masses

Photo/Brandon McKenney
Photo/Brandon McKenney
Name recognition: Linda Bean, granddaughter of L.L. Bean, says the Maine lobster brand is "as powerful as Coke and Pepsi."

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From Russ

I Live in Boothbay in the summer and Delray Beach in the winter. I would be interested in when the opening of Ms. Bean's lobster business will be in Delray Beach; and where. I would be anxious to attend the opening and promote the business with all of my acquaintances.

When Linda Bean got into the lobster business last year, she knew nothing about what is arguably the state's most recognizable industry. But Bean did know a thing or two about brand recognition. The 67-year-old granddaughter of Leon Leonwood Bean, founder of L.L.Bean, is combining the heft of the Maine lobster brand — "as powerful as Coke and Pepsi," Bean says — with the Bean name to boost the value of the Maine lobster.

In September, Bean launched Linda Bean's Perfect Maine, a brand recognition effort that's an offshoot of the Port Clyde Lobster Co. she started last year. From her wharves in Port Clyde and Vinalhaven, she sells live lobsters to individuals and to grocery and department store chains across the country, including Shaw's, Roche Bros. and Wal-Mart. The line also includes a frozen lobster stew that she debuted on the QVC channel last December, as well as a string of lobster roll take-out restaurants called Linda Bean's Perfect Maine Lobster Roll. The first eateries opened in Rockland and Freeport in July, and this winter Bean is opening a take-out spot in Delray Beach, Fla., with plans to open more Florida locations before the spring.

To capitalize on the strength of the Maine brand, Bean's lobsters are tagged with bracelets that depict her company logo — a lobster surrounded by a Celtic knot design — and the port where the lobster was landed. And though Linda Bean's Perfect Maine is not affiliated with L.L.Bean, putting her name on the lobster company conjures up the notions of sustainability and quality for which L.L.Bean has become known, Bean says.

Bean, a five-year resident of Port Clyde, bought Bay Lobster Co. from longtime owner David Larson Albano in February 2007. In February 2008, Bean acquired a lobster wharf in Vinalhaven from New Hampshire-based Little Bay Lobster Co., which she rents out to a local lobster buyer. Through her holdings, Bean buys from 50 lobstermen and brings in a little more than two million pounds of lobster a year, or about 10% of the lobster supply in Knox County, she says. Bean has made a number of upgrades to the two locations, adding bait coolers to both and upgrading the Port Clyde site by renovating the lobster pound and installing a hydraulic lift to haul cases of lobsters out of the boats. She declined to provide revenue projections, but says she has invested roughly $2.4 million in purchasing and upgrading the facilities.

With Maine's lobster prices at record lows, Bean says it's important to change the industry's business model and "eliminate the middle men." Currently, 70% of the state's soft-shell lobster is sent to Canada for processing, and some of those processors have slowed or shut down in recent weeks because of scarce international credit. Bean says Canadian processors have too much power in the Maine market to dictate how much they buy and what they pay. "They've had us virtually by the throat," she says. "My own goal is to reverse that. We need to add value to the product and keep it in Maine."

That means using the state's three major processors in Portland and Richmond, and adding value by developing Maine lobster products like Linda Bean's Maine Lobster Stew, made with Oakhurst cream and Kate's Homemade Butter from Old Orchard Beach.

She's renovating her Delray Beach location now, and if that endeavor is successful, Bean hopes to open other locations in Sarasota and Naples this winter, and move into other vacation destinations like Las Vegas and San Antonio. She is also thinking about franchising the take-out stands.

"I just want to go as fast as I can," she says. "The opportunities are really unlimited."

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