Nova Scotia's decision to create its own seafood brand is getting mixed reviews, with praise from some exporters and concern from others it could cause confusion in the marketplace.
Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell unveiled the $150,000 branding effort Thursday at the Halifax airport cargo hangar where tonnes of live lobster are flown to Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
"We realized sometime ago we have to have a unique brand for Nova Scotia," Colwell said.
The logo is the geographic location 45º North 63º West, coordinates that fall squarely in the province.
The designation is meant to highlight Nova Scotia specifically rather than the rest of the country.
The pitch line: Nova Scotia Seafood. Pure Canadian product.
Brand launched months ago in China
The brand was first used publicly last month when Nova Scotia inked a pilot project with Chinese online retailer AliBaba, but it debuted in China during a trade mission led by Premier Stephen McNeil last September.
Under the agreement, three Nova Scotia processors will implement a quality control program in May. One of the participating processors was on hand Thursday for the local launch of the Nova Scotia Seafood brand.
"They are identifying Nova Scotia over and above Canadian lobsters," said Norman Lockyer, chief financial officer of Nautical Seafoods Ltd. in Parkers Cove.
"This province has done a great job, this minister has done a great job in China of selling Nova Scotia lobster."
Lobster Council position
The Halifax-based Lobster Council of Canada has spent years promoting the region's exports as Canadian lobsters.
In an initial reaction executive director Geoff Irvine expressed concern about Nova Scotia's branding effort.
"We believe it will lead to confusion in the marketplace," he said.
Irvine later provided the council's official position.
"We promote the Canadian lobster brand but there are many other brands, including provincial, corporate, sustainability, food safety, etc., that exist that may be useful for exporters to use in markets that they feel may be beneficial," he said.
"It is up to individual companies to use the branding that they feel works for them."
Not a Nova Scotia problem
Lockyer agreed there is confusion in the marketplace, but he said it has nothing to do with Nova Scotia.
"The confusion is in the marketplace now that the only lobster is an American lobster," he said.
"We have to sell our province first."
The Nova Scotia branding program will eventually include branded lobster claw rubber bands that will trace a quality control program through the supply chain.
Regional marketing effort splinters
Nova Scotia's brand initiative is a pronounced departure from the united marketing approach recommended in November 2013 when the three Maritime provinces — including Colwell on behalf of Nova Scotia — agreed to a joint campaign to explicitly promote Canadian branded lobster.
"The panel recommends that industry and governments come together to develop and implement a comprehensive generic marketing and promotion campaign for Canadian lobster," the report of the Maritime Lobster Panel said.
That was during a slump in the industry, but since then there has been a huge turnaround.
N.S. lobster exports near $1 billion
In 2016, Nova Scotia lobster exports were valued at $953 million, accounting for more than half of the province's $1.7 billion seafood exports, according to provincial data.
In the good times, it's everyone for themselves.
"Newfoundland is pushing its brand, P.E.I. is pushing its food brand of P.E.I.," said Dannie Hansen of Louisbourg Seafoods. He strongly favours the new branding effort.
His company is not a member of the Lobster Council of Canada, though he's well aware of the debate within industry.
"Sometimes we have to let our companies run individually as individual companies. At Louisbourg seafoods, as their senior manager, I gotta tell you, I'm not into making sure everybody's in the same box."
Hansen said he will add the Nova Scotia Seafood brand to his company product packaging as soon as possible.