by Ed Lallo/Louisiana Seafood News
In Cajun country it is all the about gumbo, especially seafood gumbo. Experienced chefs, at home or in restaurants, know a key ingredient in a seafood gumbo is having a proper sized fresh Louisiana wild caught shrimp with a fantastic flavor – guaranteed.
To meet an ever-increasing demand for fresh, quality gumbo-sized shrimp, the Port of Delcambre and Delcambre Direct Seafood program have introduced the first product in the state carrying the “Certified Authentic Louisiana Wild Seafood” – the Vermilion Bay Sweet White Shrimp gumbo pack. The 70-90 count (pieces per pound) is the perfect size for a wide variety of uses including gumbo, fettuccini, po’boys and pastas.
“This Louisiana Certified Wild Seafood product is the first step in elevating the Louisiana Seafood Brand to the status achieved by the Idaho Potato or Alaska Salmon,” said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, whose organization partnered with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to establish the program. “The Vermilion Bay shrimp retail gumbo packs will open doors for others to follow.”
The project, conceived by Louisiana State University Agricultural Center ( LSU AgCenter) and Louisiana Sea Grant marine extension program, was designed to bring a locally branded product to the marketplace.
“Vermilion Bay Sweet White gumbo shrimp pack will contain no sodium tripolyphosphate or STP,” explained Thomas Hymel of LSU AgCenter/Sea Grant. “STP is a chemical that is widely used in the seafood industry in raw frozen product as an aid to prevent product moisture loss during the thawing process. We wanted this shrimp pack to be just like if you bought the shrimp fresh off the boat and peeled them yourself … with nothing added but shrimp.”
The demonstration project was based on an idea that small “boutique” processors across the state could benefit from the farm-to-market movement, where local products are sought.”
“The success of our first project to produce a 26-30 count hand-peeled and hand deveined gourmet pack led us to develop production of the gumbo sized shrimp pack,” said Hymel. “Major chains like Whole Foods and Natural Grocers, as well as more and more consumers, are demanding seafood that is natural, sustainable and traceable. The Vermilion Bay Sweet White Shrimp Gumbo pack meets all three needs with Louisiana white shrimp that are landed, processed and packaged here on the bayous of southern Louisiana.”
According to Hymel, there had never been a locally branded and packaged shrimp product on the grocery store shelf in this area. With the introduction of Vermillion Bay Sweet, consumers started looking for the brand in stores.
“If you have a product is locally branded, it sets it apart from everything else,” he said. “The sweet in the name refers to the extra special flavor profile of our shrimp. The brackish estuary of Vermilion Bay is fed by waters from the Atchafalaya River and the taste is just magic.”
Ready for the Big Time
Vermilion Bay Sweet original was a labor-intensive project, with every step done by hand. Vermilion Bay Sweet Gumbo Pack brings a local bayou born product into the world of big-time processing and marketing.
Marketed under the Vermilion Bay Sweet brand, the new one-pound gumbo packs will soon enter Acadiana markets in such stores as BiLo’s in New Iberia, South End Grocery in Lafayette, Sammy’s Country Store in Maurice, Simon’s Grocery in Kaplan and CajunGrocer.com.
To meet the expected demands of gumbo pack, the Vermilion Bay project has enlisted one of the states largest and most modern processors, Gulf Crown Seafood of Delcambre, to produce and package the new product.
“Gulf Crown has worked closely on all phases of this project,” said Hymel. “They have been instrumental in addressing the issues of the quality and the safety of product.”
For the gumbo pack to succeed on the shelves, it is important to have quality in the plant. Working with local boat captains, Gulf Coast has developed a quality control process to produce a very high quality shrimp.
“As one of the Gulf’s largest processors, we pack more than 15-million pounds of shrimp a year, shipping throughout the US to numerous distributors and restaurants,” said Jeff Floyd, owner of Gulf Crown. “We’re excited about this chance to prove that Louisiana’s white shrimp is the best, highest quality shrimp coming from Gulf waters.”
“It is important that going forward we create niche markets like this for Louisiana shrimp in order to maximize the money we can get for our product,” he went on to explain.
A modern packaging line recently installed at the plant will package the shrimp in one-pound clear plastic vacuum packages. The shrimp are then quick-frozen to remain that way till thawed for use.
“Vermilion Bay Sweet gumbo pack will have just shrimp, with no STP addeed,” said Floyd. “Sodium bisulfite, an additive used in wine making, is used in some shrimp to control the appearance of black spot, a cosmetic shell discoloration.”
Frozen Doesn’t Mean “Not Fresh”
“Frozen doesn’t mean ‘not fresh’,” explained Jim Gossen, chairman of Sysco Louisiana Foods, one of the largest seafood distributors in Texas. “We have to change the way consumers think of fresh. Shrimp that are quick frozen and thawed at time of preparation have a better taste and texture than shrimp containing chemicals required for open display at fish counters.”
The quality of the shrimp will be careful traced from the boat, to the docks and to the processor to guarantee a premium product.
These guys have been in a pressure cooker,” said Hymel about the first run of more than 20,000 pounds of Vermilion Sweet, “they have to do the best job with the product provided – that is not hard to do when the have the advantage of starting with an awesome product.”
“We want to make this a full-cycle program. Quality diligence will start on the local boats catching the white shrimp in the size needed for the gumbo pack,” he explained.
According to Hymel, a definite demand exists for the new product. The Vermilion Bay Sweet pack introduced six months ago is successfully competing in the marketplace, and specialty stores and supermarkets are chomping on the bit to get ahold of the new product.
Sitting two blocks from the Delcambre drawbridge, Shaun’s Cajun Meats has been the test market for the new gumbo pack. “Almost everything we cook here in southern Louisiana requires gumbo size shrimp,” said Shaun Seguir, the stores owner.
“We have had the gumbo shrimp for six months. At first a lot of customer’s didn’t realize we had the product, but now it is selling off the shelf. With the smaller shrimp you get more to the pack, perfect for stews, pastas, po’boys and gumbos. You know if a meat market can successfully sell it, anyone can sell it.”