In 1912, Leopold Blum and Shelley Bergeron went in together to the dried shrimp business, on nothing more than a handshake. At the time, drying shrimp was the only way to preserve protein-packed Louisiana shrimp for transport.
One century later, Blum & Bergeron, Inc., continues to supply RedBug Brand Dried Shrimp to cities across America.
“If you’re in business 100 years, you have a lot of junk,” explains Louis Blum, Jr., 61, as he navigates around the office, pointing out the portraits of his grandfather and Shelley Bergeron.
With its cypress frame, belted ceiling fans, and tongue-and-groove pine floor, the Blum & Bergeron, Inc. warehouse on Main Street in Houma, Louisiana, has changed very little over the last century. An exhibit at the nearby Bayou Terrebonne Waterlife Museum attests to the fact that air-conditioning and refrigerators are the only two real upgrades for the building.
Age-Old Process Has Withstood Test of Time
Back when deliveries were made by boat, it was the ideal location. Now, being in the downtown district is more of a hindrance than a help. Main Street is a little tight for delivery trucks.
“The mechanics have changed, but the process has not,” says Blum.
Shrimp — fresh off the boat — are still boiled then laid flat to dry.
“Used to be the sun would do all the work,” reflects Blum, sharing a photograph of shrimp spread across a seemingly endless wooden drying platform.
An Innovative Idea
Eventually, co-owner Bergeron came up with a way to improve the next step of the process. The invention of the mechanical shrimp beater, which removes the heads and shells of the dried shrimp was a significant advancement for the industry. Bergeron and Freddy Chauvin patented the contraption. A small-scale model is displayed in the Blum & Bergeron, Inc. warehouse.
“We use everything,” Blum says with pride. The dry, dehydrated shrimp shells are ground into a dust called shrimp meal. According to Blum, it is high in protein and used most commonly in fish food. Nothing goes to waste, especially if it can help the bottom line.
“The key to our future is finding new markets,” says Blum. Like many other American businesses, he’d like to export to China like his grandfather did before World War II. However, Blum also hopes to introduce younger American generations to the fully cooked, ready-to-eat convenience of dried shrimp.
For a century, through wars, depressions and hurricanes, Blum & Bergeron, Inc. has survived because of its innovations in the mechanics of processing dried shrimp. But the cornerstone of the process has remained the same — fresh Gulf shrimp straight off the boats of Louisiana fishermen.
“Without them, we don’t have anything,” says Blum. “Without them, we couldn’t have made it 100 years.”