MILBRIDGE, Maine — Putting identification tags on animals is nothing new.
Usually, such tags are used to help owners find lost pets or livestock. One local fishing family, however, has started using specialized tags to help people find out more about their dinner.
This summer, Dorr Lobster Co., located on Bar Island off Pigeon Hill Road, started placing specialized tags on every whole lobster that is shipped out of its waterfront packing warehouse. The tag, which has the company logo on it, identifies the lobster as being caught in Maine “using sustainable practices.”
It includes the company’s phone number, website address, and a tracking number that diners can look up online to find out which fisherman caught their lobster and when it was caught. The tags are safe to boil and can be left on the cooked crustaceans as they are served to restaurant customers, according to the company.
Chad Dorr, business manager for the family-owned business, said Sunday that they started placing the tags on lobsters this past July. Lobsters that are shipped for resale at eastern Maine supermarkets and those that are sold direct to consumers over the company’s website all get the tags, which are in the shape of Maine. Lobsters that are shipped out for processing do not get the tags, he said.
Dorr, who has a business management degree from Husson College, grew up in the lobster business. Dorr Lobster Co. was founded in 1977 and over the past 10 years or so it has expanded into online sales direct to consumers and into processing. Between two outdoor pounds and an indoor storage tank, he said, Dorr Lobster has storage capacity for 130,000 pounds of lobster.
With the new tags, Dorr said the idea is not just to better market their product, but Maine lobster in general. He said the business also opened up a retail shop on the Harborside Hotel pier in Bar Harbor this summer, where it has been marketing its lobster to tourists in hopes that they will order some online when they get home.
Customers can track their lobster by looking up on the Dorr Lobster website which one of the six fishermen who sell to Dorr caught that lobster. A photo and brief bio of each of the six lobstermen is posted on the website.
Dorr said he can envision a scenario in which someone orders a lobster at a restaurant outside of New England and then, when the cooked lobster arrives at the table, finds Dorr’s tag hanging off it and then uses a cellphone to look up where it came from.
“I’m trying to give them an enhanced experience,” Dorr said.
That experience, if it reassures customers that their meal was harvested sustainably and allows them to directly trace their dinner to its source, could end up fetching a higher price — not just for the restaurant, but every step of the supply chain along the way, he said.
Dorr’s tags are one of the latest examples of how Maine lobster is being marketed by smaller businesses directly to consumers.
Simply selling generic or unlabeled lobster to seasonal tourists, large distributors and restaurant chains who ship it long distances was for a long time the only strategy needed for Maine’s lobster industry. But declining prices in recent years — and especially the sharp decline this past summer — has generated a keen interest within the industry in finding better ways to market lobster specifically from Maine and for increasing the amount of processing in the state.
If there is heightened national and global demand for lobster specifically caught in Maine, and if less of that catch is exported for processing in Canada, state and industry officials have reasoned, Maine’s commercial lobster fishery should generate even more value for the state’s economy.
Dorr said Maine’s industry is going to have to become more involved in directly marketing Maine lobster to consumers. The appearance Friday on the ABC television show Shark Tank of two Maine natives who run Cousins Maine Lobster, a food truck business in Los Angeles, is an example of marketing Maine lobster direct to consumers. Linda Bean, whose diversified Perfect Maine Lobster company also places similar tags on lobsters it sells for the live retail market, is another such example (though Bean’s tags do not have tracking numbers).
Bean sells lobster wholesale, direct to consumers via the Internet, and has a handful of restaurants in Maine and Florida — and heavily she promotes Maine as the source of her lobster in each of these sales platforms.
“Branding is a big part of our industry,” Dorr said. “I want people to know, if it has that [Dorr Lobster] tag on it, it’s coming from Maine.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.