Winning the Poke War… Once and For All

by Jeff Moore on September 25, 2017 No comments

“They’re everywhere!” exclaimed a local Poke shop owner in nearby Fullerton, CA. He then seemed to channel Luke Skywalker from the original Star Wars… “and they’re coming in too fast!”

You don’t need to look too hard or too far… Poke restaurants and Poke menu offerings are poking up everywhere (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). That Frozen Yogurt Shop at the corner is likely a Poke Shop now.

Unless you have been hiding out in the desert since 2015, you have to of noticed the “Poke Craze.”

Poke-blog-768x419

Just search #poke on Twitter… you’ll scroll for hours with customers and restauranteurs posting their pictures of fabulous bowls of bright fish cubes. On Google, the same search will come back with 25,300,000 results (“Poke Fullerton” came back with 258,000 results alone). Hundreds of articles about this fascination with Poke have been written from industry rags like Eater and Bon Appetit to more mainstream media like the Washington Post, Forbes and even People Magazine. It seems like everyone is doing the Poke dance and there is no end in sight.

Back in September of 2016, Eater Magazine looked deeper into the meteoric rise of places serving Poke… “The number of Hawaiian restaurants on Foursquare, which includes those that serve poke, has nearly doubled in the last two years, from 342 venues to 700 as of August 2016. This August alone, new poke concepts have opened in several cities, including Phoenix, Orange County, Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York City. If the growth rate continues, by 2020 there could be more than 1,000 Hawaiian restaurants in the country.”  

2020? Think again. In a recent survey of our own, we talked to several franchisees of Poke places and at last count, just these few we spoke to have stated they have over 400 new Poke franchises signed and opening. There are over 1,000 new Poke places open NOW! (just Google “how to start a Poke Bowl business” and you will get 3,860,000 results)

1,000 units do not even come close to the real number. Traditional seafood houses, fast-casual seafood operations, and even mainstream restaurants are adding Poke to their menu. The count is in the thousands.

This issue of The Deep Dive Report intends to Dive Deep into Poke… and help you come out victorious; winning over customers that crave your little bowls of heaven and bring back lots of friends to experience your magical Hawaiian cuisine.

What is Going On?

With the popularity of Poke, there is simply more Poke demand than there is good Poke supply. Poke has fast become the chicken wing of the seafood industry. Poke is more desired than any other cut of Tuna.

Restaurant operators are fighting a 3 Front War… 1) The supply war 2) The quality war 3) The competition opening everywhere, driving prices down.

Poke gained local popularity in Hawaii as The Fisherman’s Snack. They would cut small pieces of offcuts from their catch and snack on them during the day on the boat. In the 70’s, restaurants in Hawaii started to offer Poke to the tourists and it quickly became a very popular “destination dish.”

Beauty Poke Bowl

Skipjack Tuna and Octopus were the original offerings… mainly because Skipjack was too small to cut into entree portions, but over the years, larger Tuna and additional species have found themselves in the offering.

Ahi Poke was traditionally cut from the offcuts of Saku, aka Primes… the most prized cut of tuna. Saku has traditionally been in high demand at fine sushi restaurants so Poke was sufficient for Hawaiian demand. As Poke has become more and more popular on the mainland, this type of Poke became very scarce in relation to the high demand. Traditional Poke, the best cuts still remain mostly in Hawaii.

Higher demand has resulted in an ocean of suppliers cutting all the Ahi Tuna they can into these little cubes. The problem is, there is an art to cutting GOOD POKE… simply cutting a bunch of full Ahi Lons into cubes results in a lot of less than desireable Poke that is ladened with too much sinew (aka Sugi). Sinew is more prominent at the head and the tail… the more active parts of the muscles.

Sinew or Sugi is connective tissue or tendon-like and hard to chew making the eating experience less than ideal. An exhaustive search on Yelp reveals many complaints and comments about chewy Ahi Poke that accompany 1 and 2 Star reviews… Ouch!

Besides Ahi Tuna, new species are popping up with Albacore and Salmon as the most popular additions… cooked octopus is still very common. Albacore is a very good line extension as is Salmon, but Salmon Poke quality and eating experience vary widely.

What Does This Mean to YOU?

More competitors drive up demand which drives up the price, but with greater competition, there is downward pressure on prices which find owners looking for better deals on Poke to protect their margins.

Finding a good source of supply and cuts that can provide your customers with a magical and memorable Poke adventure and have them share their experience with their friends and the social sites is the whole ball game.

Where to find the winning combination of consistent, premium cuts and a competitive price is the real trick (spoiler alert, you can start to solidify your winning combination by sending an email to solution@internationalpacific.com )

What Can YOU Do?

As with nearly everything in this business, You Have Options!

You have several options to create a fabulous Poke experience. Your signature dish is certainly going to include your signature sauce, but as fish guys, we are leaving the sauce creation and recipes to you.

ahi-poke-ahi-tuna-poke-egg-tostada

Step one is to look at who is doing Poke right, serving dishes that have customers craving and raving about them and mirror their success, but where do you start?

You know the old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”?

Well, when dealing with Poke, do as the Hawaiians do!  They have a reputation as discriminating buyers and meticulous creators of the most coveted Poke in the world.

Before we Dive into specific cuts, options and species, there is one hard and fast rule with Poke that makes a HUGE difference… Size Matters!

Choose the size cube/piece you want and stick with it – This is a very big deal for a couple reasons…

1) The Marinade you are using will penetrate the flesh differently with larger and smaller pieces. If your sizes are too varied, the eating experience will be hit and miss. The worst thing a customer can say is, “it’s not as good as it used to be.” Lack of size consistency will cause in flavor inconsistency that will result in low customer confidence… not good.

2) If the pieces vary in size, then the pieces per serving will also vary. The customer buys with their eyes. When they see a difference in size or portion from visit to visit, there is a high probability that they will think they are getting slighted one way or the other.

  • The other issue with this is your server on the line. If you started with 1/2″-3/4″ pieces and then moved to 3/4″-1″ pieces, and you are using a Poke Scooper (see image)  there will be visibly fewer pieces per the serving. Your server will likely be compelled to add “a couple more pieces”… especially if they are building the bowl in front of the customer like at all Fast Casual Poke places. This will impact your food cost and profitability in a way that is nearly invisible to you but can hurt badly over time.

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While size matters, having a perfect cube is not as important as having a good quality Poke with little to no sinew/sugi. The traditional Poke was a 3/4″ cube, but sizes have varied for portioning purposes.

Poke commonly comes in 3 cuts…

  1. Regular – This is as close to a perfect cube as you can get.
  2. Irregular – These are close, but not quite… hence the name irregular (Irregular are more common with hand cut Poke). These can be a little cheaper than Regular, but not much.
  3. Crazy Cuts – These bare very little if any resemblance to Poke Cubes. – These are usually strips that can be further cut, but they are highly inconsistent and usually much cheaper in price with a higher instance of sinew.

Ahi Tuna is the big daddy of the Poke offering. There are a few ways to go about serving the best available product, like the Hawaiians…

  • Look for Ahi Tuna that is Hand Line Caught – There is a rule that has been stated when it comes to fishing… “the lower the tech the catch method, the higher the quality the fish.” Using fish that was caught and boarded alive will result in a better performing fish on the dish. Handline is about as low-tech as it gets.
  • Look for Ahi Poke that is Hand Cut from Fresh Tuna Prior to Freezing – This will give you a higher probability of high-quality tuna with the lowest probability of sinew. When the cutters are cutting from fresh tuna, they can see the sinew so it is much easier to work around the tail and the nape cuts. Commonly, the nape and tail cuts will be sent through a centrifuge to remove the sinew and then into a grinder for ground tuna. Ground or finely chopped tuna is used for Spicy Tuna but is also used for burgers or other eclectic selections like Blackened Seared Ahi Tuna Tacos… Yum!
  • Cut your own Poke from Center Cut Loins – This has vastly become the more popular way to get good quality Poke… on the mainland and in Hawaii. It is important to start with Center Cut Loins that trim the tail and nape down to limit the sinew in the loin. You can trim a whole loin yourself by cutting off the nape and the tail sections, but that can and most like WILL create a consistency issue in the back of the house… and leave you with a lot of Tuna with a high volume of sinew.

Loin to Poke

*** Something that will also create a better experience for your guests… especially the Millenials, is to make sure your fish is caught responsibly. Require your Ahi Tuna supplier to show you proof that your Ahi is Sea Mammal Safe (Sea Mammal / Sea Turtle Safe), and then post it out front for all to see.

dolphinSafeLogo

Additional offerings have been very popular, but not always easy to find in a consistent manner. Here are a couple of the more common Poke offerings…

poke-bowl

Albacore –  This is an obvious and easy choice to add but it is important to follow the same rules on the size of the cube. The loins are fairly easy to cut and do not have the same high sinew challenge. Sashimi Grade Albacore is going to produce the best flavor and performance by far. There are Sashimi Grade sources from both the North and South Pacific… the South Pacific Albacore is a bit larger and less expensive.

Salmon – Salmon has become very popular but can become problematic if you are driving to the bottom on price. There is a real art to finding good Salmon Poke that won’t break the bank, but going the cheap way will hurt you in the form of horrible reviews accompanied with pictures of pale mush.

Salmon Poke Bowl CFG 1

Important: Farm-raised Atlantic Salmon has proven to produce the best and most consistent flavor of Salmon Poke with a good firm bite. We have seen some operators use WIld Salmon, but the results vary widely… too widely.

Here are some options for good quality Salmon Poke…

  • Hand Cut Deep Skinned Poke – The preferred cut will be more of an irregular cut, but has nice color. The most cost-effective version is out of China, but it is far from cheap. There is commonly not a lot of flavor with the cut out of China, but this can be a good thing as it will take on the flavors of your sauces and spices while maintaining a good, firm bite.
    • Not all hand cut is created equal. Many are Crazy Cuts, not very pretty, very soft and a bit grainy.
  • Premium Atlantic Salmon Poke Saw Cut from Block Frozen Salmon – This has been the most cost-effective way we have seen to serve a great Salmon Poke without too high a cost. The best we have seen is out of Norway, but there are good cuts from Chile as well. These cuts are very consistent size wise and less expensive than the better hand cut.

Salmon Poke 3

  • Cutting Your Own – We have seen operators take advantage of slower moving sizes of frozen Atlantic Salmon Portions and fillets and cut their own in the back of the house. This can be a great option but BEWARE…
    • Sourcing older product will result in heavier tasting Salmon and will turn mushy faster.
    • Sourcing Salmon Trim or Tails will cause inconsistencies in performance (mushy, fat line, color) and flavor… and sourcing trim is NOT Scalable. This is a hit and miss proposition, especially for a growing concept.

Whether is it Ahi, Albacore, Salmon or the multitude of other species, the way to with the Poke War, once and for all is simple… start with high-quality raw material and then stick with what works. Your customers will thank you… and bring friends.

While the Poke Craze continues to heat up, so will your experiences with new species, cuts, and offerings.

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If this Deep Dive Report has taught you anything, I hope you walk away with the understanding that you have options and that going to the cheap is an option that will hurt you sooner than later.

If you would like to discuss any of these options or even sample some of the cuts shared above, please contact me directly, or shoot us an e-mail at solution@internationalpacific.com. We are eager to serve you.

We are eager to serve you.

To Your Abundant Health,

jeff

Jeff Moore
President, International Pacific Seafoods
jmoore@internationalpacific.com
o: (866) 360-FISH (3474)
c: (714) 936-5302

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Jeff MooreWinning the Poke War… Once and For All

WTH is Going On with Mahi-Mahi?!?!

by Jeff Moore on September 12, 2017 No comments

Mahi-Mahi… the popular “value tropical fish”, great for tacos and entrees have become “Out of Sight.”

Mahi Loin Raw CC Portions sized to mailOut of sight for the scores of fishermen looking for the widely desired fish, which has elevated the price to Out of Sight status on a lot of menus.

Several restaurant operators are hanging in there, but more and more have cried “Uncle” and are looking for alternatives to serve their customers.

For the inaugural “Quick Dive” Report, we will look at WTH is going on with Mahi-Mahi.

  • What is going on? 

It seems for the last 2-3 years, we have experienced “the worst Mahi catch ever.” Every year has been worse than the last. Warmer waters, changing currents and other weather related phenomena have resulted in poor catch of Mahi… and the Mahi that was caught, for the most part, was either too small to process, or too problematic because of the distance the fishermen needed to go out, causing high fuel costs and longer holding times which pushed up the histamine levels. Over the past couple years, the FDA has rejected large percentages of Mahi coming into the USA, which has hurt the supply even worse. Demand for the fish continued to be strong well into this supply challenge, which has pushed prices way up. Depending on your threshold for specification compliance, need for uniformity and overall quality, portions are going to run from the mid/high $8’s to the high $9’s and even low $10’s… and that is wholesale to the distributor!

Even “Taco” or “Buffet” portions, commonly cut from production by-product is very scarce and has increased in price even more on a percentage basis than the standard portions, loins or sides.

China has been producing some lower priced Mahi, but their catch results in very small portions and pieces with very short supply.

There are two seasons for Mahi: Asian Season that goes from April to June and Central/South American that can start as early as November, but goes into full swing December through March, but slows down in February, In the last few years we have seen much shorter seasons.

Mahi is known as one of the fastest growing fish in the sea, but recently, the “big ones” have been elusive. There is Mahi out there, but it is smaller and less abundant which has driven these prices way up… double what we saw 2-3 years ago.

  • What does it mean to you?

The shortage and uncertain supply have dramatically increased prices. If your menu absolutely needs to have Mahi on it, then you are seeing higher food cost percentages for the plate. If you have a tough time moving your menu price, Mahi is going to provide a much lower plate profitability or even show a loss. That is not ideal. Mahi pricing is not expected to retreat to prices of 4 years ago… ever. There are operators willing to pay the price and the fishermen and primary packers know it, so they are not going to be so eager to move lower. The price for Mahi is going to stay relatively high… maybe not as high as it is now, but certainly higher than we are comfortable paying.

There is Mahi if you need it, but you are going to pay.

  • What can you do?

Fortunately, there are other fish in the sea. You have alternatives for Mahi… and you can also change portions sizes to reduce cost, or even de-emphasize Mahi on the menu by surrounding it with other options, thus elevating average plate profitability across your menu. Here are some of your options…

  • Reduce Mahi Portion Sizes – We have helped certain customers by reducing portions sizes. Commonly, Mahi portions are sized 8oz, 6oz, and 4oz. We have been able to cut 7oz for our 8oz customers and 5oz for our 6oz customers who have opted to keep Mahi on this menu. We have also been able to do certain dimensions or “Long Cuts” for customers that want to maintain a certain plate coverage while mitigating their plate cost.
    • It is important to realize that very few processors cut this tight. It is an extreme longshot that any overseas processor can do this with any acceptable level of consistency. IPS is known for this type of cutting. Our size ranges are +/- 0.5oz which are tighter than industry standards.
  • Alternative Types of Fish – We have been able to provide alternatives for many of our customers who find the price of Mahi to just be too high to manage on their menu. Here are a few of the more popular alternatives… a few of which are rather surprising.
    • Wahoo/Ono (Wahoo and Ono are the same fish – The common name is Wahoo, but it is also known by its Hawaiian name Ono, which means “delicious”) – Wahoo is the most common alternative for Mahi because it looks like Mahi and is a tropical fish. WAHOO STACK PLATE
    • Wahoo is about $2.00 per pound less than Mahi. The price has firmed up because of higher demand, but it is still well under Mahi.
      • There are many operators who have a hard time with Wahoo because it is leaner than Mahi. The cooks want to cook it the same as Mahi, but Wahoo cooks up more like Halibut so if you cook it as long as Mahi, it can become dry and a little tough.
        • We have been able to overcome this by training the staff and helping them understand that Wahoo is “The 5 Minute Fish!” Brushing Wahoo with Olive Oil and Seasoning, Grilling it 2.5 minutes per side (for an 8oz portion) will result in a fabulous eating experience. This method has been tested time and time again. The trick is to make sure the line cooks trust the timing and don’t over cook it.
        • The Wahoo in this picture are Wahoo Sticks, cut specifically for Tacos, but many operators are using them for Salads and other “stackable” menu ideas

Barramundi – This fish was a bit surprising to a lot of people, but there are some very popular chain operators across the country that have moved to Barramundi and have no intention of going back.

  • 111418_2PF_Barramundi-RESHOOT-0144_SQ_main_square_2x
    • Like the other alternatives, Barramundi pricing is well under Mahi… about $1.50 per pound under. It is a mild fish that takes on any flavor you want to give it with spices or sauces.
    • The best Barramundi we have worked with by far is Australis (www.thebetterfish.com). They are doing some very innovative things and are at the forefront of sustainability and responsibility. Australis Barramundi is a farmed fish, but they operate under the highest standards in the global aquaculture arena.
    • News Flash! Australis has just started to produce Taco Strips! They are amazing… perfectly sized for tacos or wraps and in pricing parody with the better Mahi byproduct sold today. We have tried their strips. They’re a winner.

Swordfish – Yes, Swordfish! Can you believe Swordfish is cheaper than Mahi? It is… by about 2 bucks per pound for a standard portion.

  • Swordfish Steaks Raw 1Swordfish, especially the Sashimi Grade (They just call it that because of the catch method, you can’t eat it raw) out of Singapore has a consistently sweeter and milder flavor than other origins is gaining in popularity again. The catch method is Singapore is much more conducive for a better performing Swordfish. The price of Mahi versus the relatively low price of quality Swordfish has been one of the main reasons our customers are considering and even switching to this premium seafood for several applications.
    • Swordfish has such a high-value perception that serving Swordfish in place of Mahi has really elevated some menus… “Swordfish Tacos? Wow! You have really upgraded!”
      • It is important to note, All Fish Are Not Created Equal. High-quality Swordfish out of Singapore is something you will be able to trust day in a day out… on every plate, platter or taco you serve. Minimal bloodline and a beautiful pinkish hue (like in this picture).
  • Albacore – Sashimi grade South Pacific Albacore is becoming another popular alternative to certain Mahi applications. Another fish that is $2.00 per pound less than Mahi with a high-value perception. Albacore Sandwich Cut Raw 2
  • Mild and versatile, Albacore is a leaner fish like Wahoo, but when seared or cooked medium rare, it is great as an entree, for tacos, salads, and sandwiches (we cut a 1/2″ sandwich cut Albacore for certain customers)
    • Albacore is becoming a staple on menus at seafood and casual dining operations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This turned out to be a longer “Quick Dive than I anticipated, but I wanted to make sure you know that you have options… amazing options, for the high priced Mahi you have been forced to deal with for the last couple years.

If you would like to get more information or samples of our special cut Mahi portions or the alternatives discussed above, please give us a call (866) 360-FISH (3474). We are eager to help and serve.

To Your Abundant Health,

jeff

Jeff Moore
President, International Pacific Seafoods
jmoore@internationalpacific.com
o: (866) 360-FISH (3474)
c: (714) 936-5302

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Jeff MooreWTH is Going On with Mahi-Mahi?!?!

Welcome to the Deep Dive Report…

by Jeff Moore on September 9, 2017 No comments

After a couple dahi-searedecades working with customers and sharing jargon-free market information, meaning and solutions on a one-on-one basis, we finally decided to create a report that helps foodservice operators navigate the waters in a sea of uncertainty.

The Deep Dive Report is meant to be your “Go To Source” for all things seafood… whether it is wild or farmed, shell fish or fin fish, we will cover it.

The Deep Dive Report is intended to be informative, meaningful, immediately shareable and actionable. We do this by reporting on relevant seafood market news using no industry jargon or fancy terms that leave us all (most seafood industry professionals as well) wondering what half the report said or meant.

Every species of seafood we report on will have a simple and easy structure that can be read, understood, shared and acted upon immediately. We will do this by answering 3 questions in sequence…

1) What is going on?

2) What does this mean to you?

3) What can you do?

The Deep Dive Report will come in 2 segments: 1) A Weekly or semi-weekly Quick Dive Report covering specific species on the move and news flashes 2) A Monthly Deep Dive Report that will Go Deep on the main seafood markets, restaurant industry updates and success stories.

While the Deep Dive Report comes weekly, as a subscriber, you have access to a team of seafood market, sourcing and application experts eager to serve you 5 days a week, provide answers to your seafood questions… and probably answer a few more questions you didn’t know to ask. 🙂

Welcome to Deep Dive… we look forward to informing and serving you.

To Your Good Health,

jeff

Jeff Moore
President, International Pacific Seafoods
jmoore@internationalpacific.com
o: (866) 360-FISH (3474)
c: (714) 936-5302

read more
Jeff MooreWelcome to the Deep Dive Report…