How to sell oysters in New York when you can't leave P.E.I.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for the oyster business in so many ways, and finding new customers is one of them.

When it comes to oysters, eating is believing

The pandemic has been hard on the oyster business. (Heather Ogg/Cascumpec Bay Oyster Company)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for the oyster business in so many ways, and finding new customers is one of them.

In normal times there is no great trick to selling your oysters to chefs and distributors: grow a great oyster, price it appropriately, and then go to a trade show and feed people your oysters. Trouble is, for the last 10 months trade shows have been cancelled.

Enter the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, which has organized a virtual trade show for New York buyers and chefs on Wednesday. Martin O'Brien, owner of Cascumpec Bay Oysters, is one of five P.E.I. growers at the show, and this is the second virtual trade show.

The first, in June, was the Atlantic Canadian Food Showcase.

"I got to chat over Zoom with a bunch of different buyers and people in the food business around the world," said O'Brien.

Virtual challenges

The virtual trade show is set up much like a real one.

Each vendor has their own chatroom, just like booths at a trade show, and the buyers will go from room to room. When you see someone come into your room, you can start your pitch or you can wait for them to ask questions. There is a button for the visitor to download promotional material.

O'Brien said it was an interesting experience, but he did not make any sales. There was an important piece missing from that show, the actual oysters. That won't be the case this week.

"This time is a little different," said O'Brien.

'You just try to keep the fire smouldering,' says oyster grower Martin O'Brien about finding new customers. (CBC)

"We actually have samples that went down to New York and they're actually in the hands of many of those buyers and chefs in New York right now."

The buyers coming into O'Brien's booth on Wednesday will have already tasted his oysters, sparing him the next-to-impossible task of describing what makes his oysters stand out from others.

O'Brien, who established Cascumpec Bay Oysters in 2012, sells mostly in Ontario and Quebec, and would like to get a foothold in the U.S. market, but even with the oysters in the buyers' hands he knows it will be a hard sell.

Oysters are mostly a restaurant food, and restaurants in New York remain mostly closed.

"You just try to keep the fire smouldering until things open up. I think in the summer when the patios open up again and restaurants, that'll make a huge difference," O'Brien said.

His company's sales are down about 35 per cent in the pandemic.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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