Kathy Happynook, general manager of Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood, displays a basket of their product line, rebranded as Gratitude. (Mike Youds photo)
At Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation, their “Gratitude” is about to show, big time.
Gratitude Seafood is the new marketing brand for products produced by the wholly-owned Nuu-chah-nulth enterprise and the five west coast First Nations behind it.
The company is on the verge of launching a new marketing campaign that promises to build on its reputation developed over the last 16 years.
“We wanted a brand that would tell the Nuu-chah-nulth story,” said Jennifer Woodland, CEO of the seafood company. “It’s an invitation to join us on a journey, a journey that began many thousands of years ago.”
Woodland and general manager Kathy Happynook hired a Vancouver marketing firm, Hot Tomali, to help come up with fresh branding.
“To be honest, coming up with the name was a challenge,” Woodland said.
Inspiration came from the three Nuu-chah-nulth sacred principles: Hish-uk ts’a-walk (everything is one), Iisaak (a greater respect with caring) and Uu-a-thluk (to take care of using a modern approach).
They wanted a word that would encapsulate core values. These represent what Woodland calls the “brand pillars” — sustainability, health, community and gratitude for the harvest. In a sense, they all mean taking care.
“It just kept coming back, that with every generation, we’re grateful,” she said.
The Gratitude concept speaks to consumers who are increasingly concerned about how their seafood purchases are produced.
To Woodland and Happynook, it means ensuring that their products are responsibly harvested and processed. Currently all their products are wild foods, but Woodland said she would not rule out adding farmed products provided they meet with the three core principles.
Aquaculture in one form or another will play an increasingly important role, she believes. As well, several of the nations involved are working on shellfish tenures. There is potential for kelp products, too.
“It’s our mission as a company to get Nuu-chah-nulth people back on the water and generating wealth for their communities,” Woodland said.
Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood’s line of premium products — sockeye, smoked sockeye, smoked albacore tuna and salmon pate — is exclusively available, sold to the gift market, stores in partnering Nuu-chah-nulth communities and to the growing tourism/hospitality sector. That’s why March 10-12 is marked on their calendars, a prime opportunity to make a big splash with the Gratitude brand.
“There is a sense of pride,” Woodland said of what Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood has accomplished over the years since its founding in 2003. “There is excitement there.”
Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood’s partners include Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h', Mowachaht/Muchalaht, Uchucklesaht, and Ucluelet.
The company was granted quota in 2009 through the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (PICFI), which Fisheries and Oceans Canada started in 2007 as a means of increasing First Nations access to B.C. fisheries.
“The purpose was to get First Nations boats out on the water,” Happynook explained. “We applied. We were right out of the gate because we’d already formed.”
Though there is still much that needs to be done, PICFI has delivered. By 2015, 97 of 128 B.C. First Nations with potential commercial fishing opportunities were engaged in enterprise development.
“Ours was such a great fit,” Happynook said. “We were already working well together.”
Happynook’s role includes not only day-to-day operations but also background support for fishermen in terms of marine safety, Food Safe training and other requirements.
“Any support the fishermen need, they can come here,” she said at the company office off 3rd Avenue in Port Alberni.
Four years ago, Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood purchased St. Jean’s Smokehouse and Cannery, an Island company with a well-established reputation in the business. The acquisition gave the Nuu-chah-nulth company greater capacity for processing, sales and marketing.
Woodland envisions further growth over the next five years.
“I would like to see profitable sales and a wider variety of products so we can take advantage of our marketing capacity,” she said.