Canada's next iconic national symbol: The lobster?

Canada’s lobster industry is aiming to make the tasty crustacean a distinctly Canadian cuisine, much akin to the mighty nationalistic connection we have to maple syrup or peameal bacon. But as the Lobster Council of Canada launches the Atlantic industry into a rebranding effort, it is already playing catch-up with their U.S. counterparts.

The folks tasked with selling lobsters caught by Canadian fisherman hope to change the way Canadians look at the trusty crustacean, and get their claws on a larger piece of the international market.

The Lobster Council of Canada (LCC) recently announced a plan to rebrand the industry to give lobsters a proudly Canadian identity.

"The Lobster Council of Canada, the voice of the Canadian lobster industry, believes the time is right to launch a project focused on defining a Canadian lobster brand identity, focused on its superior quality, delicious taste and year-round availability," the LCC explains in a press release.

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As Joseph Brean of the National Post poetically puts it, when people think of lobster, they want them to think of "the life stories of the hardy folk who harvest it; the smell of traps drying on a wharf; the sheen of drawn butter on a chunk of knuckle; the joy of butchering it yourself and slurping juice out of cracked claws; and the magical culinary pairing with potato salad."

Americans have their apple pie, the Scots have their haggis. Canada has its maple syrup, its peameal bacon and its poutine. So is there room for more on the dinner table?

For the lobster industry, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. A recent Maritime Lobster Panel report identified the lack of marketing as a key improvement to make in the future.

And it has helped other industries. Canadian Beef, with its maple leaf logo that includes hints of a cowboy hat brim, sells itself as a nationalistic staple at home and in overseas markets.

The Egg Farmers of Canada have had the same "Get Cracking" slogan for decades. The Dairy Farmers of Canada go one step better. They feature a seal of approval that adorn products that use "100% Canadian Milk."

Why wouldn’t the Canadian lobster industry similarly market itself? Draw up a logo, create a mascot to appear at minor-league hockey games and come up with a catchy slogan. Something like, “Get your claws on more Canadian lobster.” I’ll leave the specifics up to the experts.

LCC executive director Geoff Irving said in a recent article that the rebranding strategy will include a "new visual image" and a promotional campaign to launch in April.

The problem, however, is that the U.S. lobster industry in Maine is running the same track, one step ahead of Canada. The U.S. state launched its own rebranding effort in late 2013, increasing its marketing budget six-fold to take advantage of a boom in supply.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, told the Associated Press in September that the campaign will help position Maine lobster ahead of its competition, which includes everything from other dinner options to the Canadian lobster industry.

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In his opinion column, published in a Maine lobster industry newsletter, Irving addresses the inevitable competition between the Maine and Canadian lobster industries. He wrote that since the species of lobster are the same (fishermen are essentially farming from different ends of the same field), competition isn't necessary.

"The challenge for all of us will be how we position our respective brands both alongside and against each other. There is intense political and sectoral pressure on both sides of the border to differentiate the Maine and Canadian lobster brands,” Irving writes.

“…[W]e naturally will be proud and promote the provenance of our own offerings, from our company, province, state and country. As we embark on this ground-breaking marketing and promotion effort it will be important to remember that our Homarus americanus is a shared species, with historical cross-border movement keeping the lights on in thousands of U.S. and Canadian communities. This promotion effort should provide us with the guidance to think regionally and nationally but with the continental view always in mind.”

Irving has some points. The two industries are large exporters overseas, and the market is growing. A recent report by the Chronicle Herald suggests that Canadian lobster exports to Hong Kong and China went up last year, and the available supply is growing off the coast of North America.

There’s money out there, and as long as there is, there is no need for a bloody feud to erupt between the two industries. But problems are bound to arise when it comes to painting the lobster as a Canadian cultural cornerstone.

If the Lobster Council of Canada wants to make their catch synonymous with Canadian cuisine, they will surely have to leapfrog Maine’s own marketing efforts. Maple syrup is considered, inside our country if nowhere else, to be a Canadian treasure trove from which Vermont has been known to dabble. Not part of a shared identity.

Will lobsters ever be known as a distinctly Canadian catch while Maine remains one step ahead?

Photo via CBC News

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