A seafood processing company in Tignish, P.E.I., has just launched a lobster dip, the first of several new products that will mean more work at the plant while using up leftover lobster and crab meat.
Royal Star Foods has been working with Canada’s Smartest Kitchen in Charlottetown on the project for six years.
Francis Morrissey is manager of Royal Star Foods, a subsidiary of the Tignish Fisheries Co-operative, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2025.
“We decided six years ago to move in a different direction, that we could do more with the product that we’re getting — to create more employment and add value to some of the lower-end products,” he said.
Morrissey said development of the new products was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, so the new lobster dip was launched just before Christmas 2023.
“Nothing happens quick. It takes a long while to get everything done,” he said, with so much behind-the-scenes work being needed.
“Although we only had it in five locations on P.E.I., the results that we got back were very, very positive,” Morrissey said, speaking of feedback from both customers and the retailers that bought the product and sold it.
“I even delivered myself over the holidays to the supermarkets because I got to talk to the managers of their seafood sections and you get feedback.”
Morrissey said Royal Star is working on more specialty products, hoping that will help move the plant in Tignish closer to running year-round.
Ideally, the initiative will stretch out the working year for 30 to 40 people, who will get two to three months more on the job at a time when production is usually shut down for the winter.
“It keeps your key people working, and it helps to pay your overhead, and that’s a big thing,” Morrissey said. “Our electric bill runs about $1.2 million every year. So if you can [cover] part of that, and some of the other cost, in the winter months, then it just means that you’re more profitable in the summer months.”
It seems simple when he sums it up: “If we can take a product from P.E.I., from the Maritimes, and turn it into a different type of product that creates more work and you make more money out of it, why wouldn’t we?”
Logistics were key
Morrissey said it was important to him to work with companies on P.E.I. to develop plastic-free packaging for the product, to make it as environmentally friendly as possible.
If we can take a product from P.E.I. … and turn it into a different type of product that creates more work, and you make more money out of it, why wouldn’t we?— Francis Morrissey, Royal Star Foods
Another major factor to consider before the launch: The price of the lobster dip.
“It’s a product that will go over very well in the restaurants because they can make a very good margin onto it, and still keep their price very, very competitive compared to some of the other products that’re being offered out as appetizers,” Morrissey said.
“If you can keep the price point where the restaurants are doing very well off it, they’ll come knocking to your door.”
Michael Bryanton, the research chef at Canada’s Smartest Kitchen, has been working with Royal Star Foods on the new product development.
The Smartest Kitchen is the research arm of the Culinary Institute of Canada, based at P.E.I.’s Holland College.
“We’re doing the product development, so we’re taking product that they have, and turning it into a value-added product,” Bryanton said.
“Perhaps one of the more expensive challenges was the equipment being used to process the lobster dip. It can be a big investment.”
Bryanton said one of the first steps was developing the lobster concentrate used in the dip.
“The concentrate is 100% lobster and they use some of the water that was used to cook the lobster. There’s lobster meat in it. There’s some processed shell and it turns into a sort of a thick paste,” Bryanton said.
“Sourcing that equipment, getting it installed, getting it ready to become not so much a processing plant any more, but a food-ready-to-eat or value-add plant.”
They also did tasting tests, to evaluate the product as it developed.
“We’re always trying products within our own team, and then before products go to market, we have sensory evaluation panels,” Bryanton said.
“We didn’t have to do too many iterations of it. We would make minor changes — might be the amount of lemon juice or the amount of garlic — but there weren’t a lot of iterations for this one.”
Bryanton said Royal Star Foods is one of the larger P.E.I. customers for Canada’s Smartest Kitchen They are now working on a new three-year contract with the company to continue the product development work.