by Ed Lallo/Louisiana Seafood News
Gulf Crown Seafood is on a mission to increase the quality of Louisiana caught shrimp, as well as the profits fishermen receive for their hard work.
Sitting on the banks of the Delcambre Canal, mere yards from the docks of an ever-shrinking shrimp fleet. Company owner Jeff Floyd is convinced that to compete in an industry driven by the price of imported shrimp, quality has to be the new game for the Louisiana shrimp community.
Built in 1987, Gulf Crown process more than 100,000 pounds of shrimp a day, one of the largest processors along the Florida to Texas Gulf coast.
According to Floyd, U.S. processors are forced to compete in the marketplace at prices driven by imported shrimp stuck at 1970 prices.
Staying Ahead With Up-To-Date Technology
An array of modern shrimp processing equipment lines the company’s floors.
“We have tried to stay on the technological edge,” said Floyd. “We knew we had to be ahead of the game to allow us to play internationally, at all levels.”
For Louisiana shrimp to demand a premium it is going to take more than modern equipment, quality has to be addressed on numerous levels.
“We need to reap the benefits of the fishermen’s hard work,” explained Floyd. “Of the 100 million pounds of shrimp caught in state waters, an unacceptable amount is brought in damaged. Proper handling can drastically reduce that percentage.”
Processing Shrimp from Around the Gulf
Gulf Crown packages Louisiana, as well as other Gulf caught shrimp.
“Louisiana shrimp definitely has room for improvement,” said Floyd. “With that improvement will come increased profits for both the boats and the processors.”
Fundamental differences exist in the various Gulf caught shrimp, especially between Louisiana and Texas landed shrimp.
Texas boats are fleets usually owned by a single owner or large corporation; the Louisiana shrimp fleet is comprised mainly of individually owned boats.
Another fundamental difference between Louisiana and Texas landed shrimp – price. Texas shrimp consistently bring a premium, with buyers bidding above market price for the product.
Texas processors notify buyers when a fleet of shrimpers are approaching the dock. Companies that package shrimp -some of the biggest seafood brokers in the U.S. – bid against each other resulting in “top dollar” for the boats.
Supporting Louisiana Seafood Certification
“This is why Louisiana shrimp is behind the eight-ball,” said Floyd. “Our ultimate goal has to be to unify shrimpers, docks, processors and buyers to produce a product that can compete on the national level.”
“We need to have our shrimp branded similar to “Black Angus beef” and “Florida orange juice”, where brokers will bid a premium instead of receiving market price,” he said. “That is why the recently announced “Certified Louisiana Wild Seafood” program is so important.”
A company that has invested heavily in modernization and quality control, Gulf Crown was one of the first processors to apply for a certification from the state.
“I see the certification program as a key to our philosophy of branding Louisiana shrimp as the highest quality product, and creating greater public demand in the marketplace,” he said. “We will be putting the certified label on all shrimp caught, landed and processed in Louisiana.”
With this program, and through educating the seafood brokers, over time we will be receiving a premium for Louisiana caught, landed and processed shrimp.
Facing Challenges Head On
The southern Louisiana bayou based business has faced unique challenges in recent years.
To meet the challenges it has diversified operations from strictly commercial, into products packaged for the retail marketplace.
To reduce expenses, it is now become one the most automated processors along the Gulf Coast.
As more and more imports flood the U.S. marketplace, shrimp from domestic waters is less than 10 percent of the total sold.
“Right now shrimp prices are pretty much steered by the imports,” explained Floyd. “We made the decision to automate the plant in order to compete and win on their playing field.”
Shrimp Packaged for Numerous Markets
Gulf Crown processes more than 12-million pounds of shrimp per year for various markets.
“In the past shrimp was packed in five pound boxes,” Floyd said. “During the last few years we have installed an Individual Quick Frozen (IQF) line to handle more retail business. This line allows us the ability to package 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3 and 5 pound.”
“Where everything used to be hand packed, we now have fully automated multi-head scales and cleaners, as well as laser sorters that analyze and sort shrimp being processed.”
With the states fleet less than half the size of in the early 1980’s. Floyd recognizes the importance of creating a niche market for Louisiana shrimp to maximize “the money we get for the product, so we can pay the boats more so they can survive.”
As the demand for seafood has increased, he has noticed a definite increase in the quality of Louisiana shrimp Gulf Crown is processing, “New education tools are helping boats provide a better product, and crews are taking more pride in the shrimp they deliver to the docks.”
“When they produce a better product, we produce a better product and Louisiana shrimp can demand a premium price in the marketplace.”