More than 15 years ago, father and son Abby and Shahin Mobine launched PureFish to sell sustainably sourced seafood to restaurants. The San Diego company grew steadily—until Covid-19 hit, devastating the market. So, they decided to speed up plans already in the works to start a direct-to-consumer company, also to be called PureFish, making the most of consumers’ pandemic-induced embrace of buying seafood online and joining multiple wholesalers that made such a switch during the pandemic.
Doing so involved a significant soup-to-nuts effort—everything from developing environmentally friendly packaging to setting up a facility for doing all the slicing, packing and shipping in-house. The company introduced the product last week.
“Over the years, we kept putting off our plans, thinking people weren’t ready to order seafood online,” says Shahin Mobine, who is president of the company. “But when the pandemic hit, we realized we had to accelerate our plans. The opportunity was now.”
Doing the Right Thing
The idea for the first PureFish grew from family’s experience running Intex, their import-export business. The Mobines used their contacts to help a group of sustainable shrimp fishermen switch from selling their catch to a large company to direct sales.
That experience provided a lesson in the economics of seafood distribution. Fishermen “doing the right thing,” as Mobine puts it, by selling high-quality, sustainable fish generally couldn’t get the prices they deserved. So the Mobines decided to form a company that would target restaurant chefs directly, showcasing the stories of individual fish farmers and fishermen and how they were doing things differently.
It took about four years of traveling the world to find the small-scale fishermen they liked. At the same time, they met with individual chefs, showing them their fish and explaining their story. To make the process as seamless as possible, they cut out as many players as possible from the multiple supply chain layers usually required. Over time, especially as interest in sustainability increased, the company grew steadily; it now sells to restaurants throughout the country.
Time to Move
Then the pandemic hit and, suddenly, demand plummeted. “All of our restaurant customers have been affected by the pandemic,” says Mobine. The company’s revenues “were significantly affected,” he says.
It didn’t take long for Mobine to realize he had to make some big changes quickly. So he re-examined plans that had been in the works since around 2016 to develop a direct-to consumer line. “We kept saying, let’s wait a little longer. We’re a small company,” he says. “But the pandemic fast forwarded people’s comfort with ordering food online.” It was time to make the move.
Mobine had developed the basic pieces of the puzzle for the new system, like the design for new packaging. but making it real required building almost the entire infrastructure. The idea was to handle everything in-house, from collecting the fish right after it was caught to cutting and packing in a facility in San Deigo. The company also enlisted two additional fishermen, adding them to the 10 regularly tapped for restaurant sales.
No Handling Necessary
Each $250 shipment contains eight trays packed with two six-ounce pretrimmed portions of fish that can be popped in the oven. The concept arose partly from conversations with Mobine’s mother. “She told us she loved cooking fish, but hated handling it,” he says. That led to the idea of selling fish already cut and ready to cook, no handling required. Customers choose one of three options. For example, the Omega Box includes such locally caught fish as black cod and saltwater stripped bass, along with aqua farmed seafood, like salmon, while the Rainbow Box comes with, among other items, fish often used in sushi.
As for the packaging, it uses recycled and upcycled materials, plus what Mobine describes as “a breathable film that’s a lot safer for the consumer.” For every box sold, the company makes a donation to an ocean cleanup nonprofit. While he won’t discuss the exact amount the company spent on development, “we invested heavily in the packaging,” Mobine says. They financed the effort internally.
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