Catfish farmers angling for sales boost in $1.1m effort

INDIANOLA, MS: The Catfish Institute is launching a $1.1 million PR campaign to promote catfish among US consumers and retailers.

INDIANOLA, MS: The Catfish Institute is launching a $1.1 million PR campaign to promote catfish among US consumers and retailers.

Working with Fleishman-Hillard, its longtime agency, the institute has already begun reaching out to retailers with point-of-sale materials.

That effort, called Spice It Up, coincides with the Lenten period (traditionally a time when fish consumption increases), which begins March 5 and extends into late April.

A media tour beginning in May and extending through the summer will be the second phase of the campaign.

Fleishman will reach out to 2,000 food and lifestyle journalists across the country, said Steve Dubinsky, a VP in the agency's Kansas City office.

Four Fleishman Kansas City staffers are working on the account.

The spring media tour, dubbed "The Great All-American Catfish Tour," will begin in late May, and will target publications and TV outlets in the top 100 US markets. Also planned are sampling opportunities at such events as state fairs and summer festivals.

The institute has developed a line of catfish seasonings that will be featured in the PR campaign, and are available at its website. Fleishman is revamping the institute's website as part of this year's overall campaign.

Fleishman has been pushing catfish to the Food Network for several years.

This March, food superstar Emeril Lagasse will devote an entire show to catfish to coincide with the new PR campaign.

"The Food Network has been a great way for us to reach the savvy cook," said Dubinsky.

Catfish sales rose to a record 630 million pounds last year, but prices were down because of the recession and increased competition from other types of fish, explained Henry Gantz, president of the institute.

"The bottom line for me is, are catfish farmers making money? And right now, they're not," Gantz said. The campaign will hopefully increase demand to the point where prices will rise accordingly. Key message points will be the ease of preparation, and catfish's versatility and convenience, said Dubinsky.

"We think that we have dispelled the myth that catfish is a bottom feeder," said Gantz. "We think we know that when people think of catfish, they know it is farm-raised."

Dubinsky said research done for the institute showed that consumers know catfish are farm-raised, but want to know more about what that means, as well as what the process involves.

The institute has also begun a new ad campaign. The Richards Group is handling advertising, and is coordinating its efforts with Fleishman.

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