Gorton's Casts Catalog as Bait for Web Site

The Gorton's brand makes the journey from supermarket freezers to consumers' mailboxes this week, where it will arrive in the form of a new 18-page catalog showcasing live lobsters and fresh caviar.

Gorton's, Gloucester, MA, has been in business since 1849. Though known mainly for frozen fish sticks and other fish-related items found in grocery freezers, the company has long thought it could extend the brand into premium fresh seafood, said Nancy Peterson, senior marketing manager.

“Our brand stands for seafood expertise, so it's not a stretch for [consumers] to believe that we sell fresh seafood,” she said.

The company waited to move into the premium seafood category because there was little demand for seafood delivered to one's home until recently.

“Ten years ago, a live lobster shipped overnight would have been an extraordinary thing. Now it's pretty accepted,” Peterson said.

Gorton's competition in the category includes Legal Sea Foods and Lobster Gram.

The company began its premium fresh seafood business in August 2003 as an online-only venture at www.gortonsfreshseafood.com. But executives soon realized a Web site alone was not enough to build a viable business, Peterson said.

“We came to the conclusion six months later that we really needed to be doing a catalog as well,” she said.

The catalog, which is scheduled to arrive in homes today, offers mainly lobster and other shellfish including shrimp, crab legs and mussels. Soups such as clam chowder and lobster bisque are also available. Gift packages include a Maine Lobster Bake, consisting of live lobsters, lobster bisque, a lobster pot and shell crackers, as well as a Five Star New England Clam Bake.

A limited selection of fish also is available in the catalog, including smoked salmon and Chilean sea bass. Other specialty items such as caviar and escargots can be found. Everything is shipped overnight.

Prices in the book range from $15.99 per item to $199.99 for a gift package. The average sale on the Web site is about $100, Peterson said. The most popular items on the Web are the live lobsters, the lobster bake and the clambake.

The catalog is designed to drive consumers to the Web, which offers a wider variety of items. Product selection in the book focuses on the top sellers, and the copy frequently suggests that readers check out the full selection on the Web.

By limiting selection in the catalog, the company kept mailing costs down, Peterson said.

“Everything that we expect to sell a lot of during the holidays is in this book,” she said.

The catalog targets the gift market and people entertaining for the holidays, which is why it includes a variety of gift packages as well as gift certificates. The book measures 6 by 11 inches. Peterson would not reveal the number of copies printed.

“[This] is very much a testing effort,” she said.

It mails to names obtained from 20 lists that include gift catalogs and other specialty premium food catalogs.

Gorton's is testing two covers, one with a close-up of a lobster and another featuring four photographs of different types of seafood. The book's photography includes many large food shots, Peterson said. The catalog also uses a considerable amount of blue and yellow, Gorton's signature colors.

The company has not decided how often it will publish the catalog.

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