Canadian Packaging

Northern Exposure

East Coast seafood giant making big waves in retail markets with bold product innovation and stunning package design masterclass


June 20, 2019
George Guidoni

For a country blessed with the longest coastline in the world, it’s only fitting that some of the world’s top seafood producers call Canada their home, with Black’s Harbour, N.B.-
headquartered Cooke Aquaculture Inc. offering a particularly compelling proof of this gravitational affinity.

Founded in 1985 as a small salmon farming business with a single marine site, the family-owned company has grown at a breathtaking pace over the years through an aggressive acquisition and diversification strategy that enabled it to evolve into the Largest North American seafood producer, according to the industry’s leading database SeafoodSource.

Nowadays employing over 9,400 people at operations in Atlantic Canada, U.S., Chile, Scotland, Spain, Uruguay, Honduras and Nicaragua, the vertically-integrated seafood farming corporation ships well over a billion pounds of seafood products to over 65 countries annually, generating revenues in excess of $2.5 billion.

Despite its prolific international success and presence—including 25 processing facilities and operations established in 10 countries—the company remains closely tied to its New Brunswick roots, employing about 1,500 people across the province.

“We are very mindful of our economic impact here at home in Atlantic Canada, and we also appreciate the support that we receive in return from local businesses,” says Jill Cronk, director of marketing for Cooke Aquaculture’s True North Seafood Company branded products business.

True North Seafood marketing director Jill Cronk (left) and senior marketing manager Devan Zanatta holding up the fully recyclable SmartPack stand-up pouches, manufactured by Emmerson Packaging in Amherst, N.S., used to package the company’s new line of frozen salmon cakes and croquettes.

“The local communities where we operate are very important to us,” Cronk told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview, citing the company’s substantial CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) credentials and track record.

“We are always spearheading community initiatives like beach clean-ups, helping with flood recovery, donations to hospitals and schools, and local scholarship opportunities.”

While Cooke Aquaculture is not exactly a household name in itself, the company’s True North Seafood brand label is certainly well familiar to millions of North American seafood lovers drawn by its broad product diversity, high quality, exquisite taste and, increasingly, elite packaging presentation and execution.

All in all, the company processes and markets 17 different core seafood species ranging from scallops and shrimp to cod, haddock and halibut.

But just as it did from the outset, when the company operated under the Kelly Cove Salmon banner until 1993, salmon remains the Cooke Aquaculture’s biggest and most important species.

“The primary True North Seafood product is quality farm-raised Atlantic salmon,” says Cronk, also listing sockeye salmon, keta salmon, king salmon and pink salmon as the key fishstocks sourced by True North’s processing facilities, along with Alaska pollock and scallops.

“Salmon is an incredibly healthy protein,” Cronk asserts. “As a leading source of Omega-3 (DHA, EPA), Atlantic Salmon can play a pivotal role in the prevention of heart disease, lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of cancer, increasing daily energy levels, and helping to prevent depression and memory loss.”

While salmon’s nutritional and health benefits have long been acknowledged by leading health authorities, some North American consumers are hesitant about purchasing fresh salmon at their grocers because of the perceived difficulty of preparation, odor issues and other presumed kitchen hurdles.

For these types of consumers, True North has developed new innovative lines of pre-made frozen salmon patties and bite-sized treats requiring minimal preparation to serve up a healthy and delicious meal or snack.

Marketed under the Atlantic Salmon Cakes and Atlantic Salmon Croquettes brand names, the new packaged products are all about consumer convenience and value-added experience, according to Cronk, enhanced by superior packaging boasting vastly improved sustainability attributes.

“They are a perfect option for existing seafood customers, while encouraging new customers who may= not be as comfortable buying or preparing seafood to shop the category,” Cronk explains.

“The croquettes are positioned as an appetizer item or as an add-on to a main dish—adding them to a salad or pasta dish, for example.

“They are great for family or for at-home entertaining as well,” says Cronk, adding it only takes 12 minutes of cooking time in a skillet or oven to make them ready-to-serve.

As for the salmon cakes, developed as a more versatile update on the traditional salmon burgers, it only takes 18 minutes on the grill or 27 minutes in the oven to prepare perfectly-shaped, five-ounce round patties that can be served on a burger bun or as a plate centerpiece with a side dish or a salad.

“Both new products were intended to provide a delicious and convenient way for Canadians to incorporate more seafood into their diet,” says Cronk, adding True North spared no effort to ensure that the new products would retail in superior packaging to complement the high value-added contents inside.

“Because this product range aims to offer consumers easy-to-prepare, delicious restaurant-quality food at home, we wanted the design to reflect current food and serving trends to immediately convey the benefits to our consumers,” says Cronk, relating why True North recruited leading Canadian branding services provider Pigeon Brands Inc. to help execute its vision of highimpact, low carbon-footprint packaging.

“We worked with Pigeon Brands to develop a design system that draws on premium cues such as slate, overhead food photography and contemporary color palettes,” says Cronk, adding that True North also approached Amherst, N.S.-based flexible packaging converter Emmerson Packaging to provide an optimal packaging structure for both products.

With over 60 years of experience under its belt, Emerson capably answered the call with its proprietary, award-winning SmartPack™ bottom-gusseted stand-up pouching that matches the aesthetics of a lamination with only one easily-recyclable substrate.

Having sold well over a billion SmartPack packages since launching it in 2008, Emmerson has achieved a #2 Plastic classification for the HDPE (high-density polyethylene) package that makes it acceptable for most municipal curbside recycling programs across Canada.

Boasting high-impact graphics created by leading Canadian brand strategy and design agency Pigeon Brands, the Smart-Pack stand-up pouches produced by Emmerson Packaging feature a cut-out window on the front of the panel to let consumers have a good look at the product before purchasing it, while also incorporating a reclosable hook-to-hook zipper underneath the tear notch on top of the bag to provide full resealability for leftover product.

Cronk says this recyclability was a highly important selection criterion for True North Seafood, along with other SmartPack attributes such as:

  • Extremely durable construction that withstands scuffing;
  • Choice of glossy or matte finish, along with a solventless VOC-free E-Beam coating process to provide superior heat and chemical resistance;
  • Improved machine performance compared to untreated polyethylene;
  • A choice of resealability options for safe storage of leftovers.

As Cronk explains, “We choose this [SmartPack] bag to allow for better visibility of the product and to get away from the usual click-lock box.

“Our main goal was to ensure we provided consumers with an easy-to-use bag that allows them to see the product before they buy it using the cut-out window on the primary display panel.

“The bag also incorporates a tear notch to make it easy to open, and it is fully resealable via a hook-to-hook zipper, so that consumers can easily store extra product in their freezer.”

Adds Pigeon Brands creative director Helena Yoon: “The gusset on the base ensures that the bag stands up in grocery freezers, which means that consumers see the full front face, as well as a window cut-out.

“This is ultimately a more premium presentation than what a standard pillow-pack delivers,” Yoon asserts, “and the matte finish with spot varnish really elevates the quality perception for consumers.”

As for the catchy, appetizing graphics and rustic type fonts set against a dramatic deep-blue backdrop of the front panel, “Pigeon Brands developed and executed an amazing design to help us create an eye-catching product range with room for growth in both frozen and fresh, value-add products,” Cronk extols.

Says Cronk: “We understand that packaging innovation plays a critical role in our connection with consumers—addressing their interest in both convenience and sustainability.

“Whether that be in providing new, convenient ways to store a multi-use product in the freezer, or reducing the environmental impact of our packaging by embracing new technologies, True North Seafood packaging lines utilize the latest technologies and make significant investment in quality assurance for all our products.”

In fact, the company has recently invested $2.8 million in various upgrades at its plant in Suffolk, Va., earlier this year, Cronk relates, including installation of a brand new Multivac packaging line to keep up with growing demand for vacuum skin-packed product such as the Martha Stewart-endorsed seafood line-up that has just launched in the U.S. market in June.

Also featuring outstanding label graphics designed by Pigeon Brands, the Martha Stewart for True North range of products combine seafood with seasoned butter or a spice mix, to make it easy for consumers to prepare perfectly seasoned, restaurant-quality seafood at home.

With a keen understanding of consumer trends and deep respect for the environment—as evidenced by the prestigious BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) certification of the international Global Aquaculture Alliance for its three Atlantic Salmon processing plants in North America—Cooke Aquaculture seems perfectly positioned to benefit from the unfolding health-and-wellness trend in North American markets, along with increasing demand for more sustainable packaging.

“Cooke Aquaculture understands that its relationship with the environment is vital to it business, since the company depends on a healthy marine environment for growing and harvesting seafood,” Cronk states.

“We are fully committed to the well-being of the marine environment, as well as to using technologies and techniques that allow us to produce sustainable seafood.

“This includes the recycling of styrofoam and plastic waste from all our sea farming and processing operations, Cronk concludes. “It is all part of our mission to be a global seafood leader driven by an innovative team that delivers superior products, service, and value to our customers in a safe and environmentally-sustainable manner.”


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