Direct-to-consumer (D2C) seafood distribution and airfreight services have long been joined at the hip. Seafood products are perishable, premium-priced, and typically ordered by a demanding customer base. Because of those challenges, the inherent speed of air transport was the default delivery choice, especially if the distance between sourcing and final delivery was measured in many hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.
Wild Alaskan Co., a 4-year-old company located in Homer, Alaska, (population 5,709) at the state’s southern tip, sees airfreight as something to be avoided. Only about 1% of Wild Alaskan’s shipments move by air. Everything else goes by a combination of barge, truckload and parcel. Shipments are delivered anywhere in the U.S. within one to two days after a consumer places an order. About 65% of Wild Alaskan’s monthly subscription members receive one-day deliveries, said Aaron Babinski, the company’s vice president-supply chain. Members living closer to the Northeast will generally receive their orders in two days, Babinski said.
The company boasts an 95% on-time delivery rate, and will either refund the price of the order or ship out a free replacement if a delivery is late or missed.
In some respects, Wild Alaskan is a logistics company that sells seafood. Its supply chain is constantly churning, with the key being to always have enough inventory in its seven U.S. fulfillment centers to meet tight delivery commitments. Seafood caught in Alaskan waters is flash-frozen aboard a barge along the coast, then shipped to a processing center near Seattle where the fish is cut into fillets. Full truckload carriers then truck full loads of product from the processing center to its regional fulfillment centers. There, the shipments are picked up either by UPS Inc. (NYSE: UPS), Wild Alaskan’s primary parcel delivery carrier, or one of three regional carriers–OnTrac in the West, CDL in the Northeast and, as of late September, LSO in the Southwest, including every ZIP code in Texas.
Wild Alaskan is looking to expand its regional delivery relationships as part of its plan to deliver guaranteed 1-day service nationwide, Bubinski said.
The no-air delivery policy has two objectives: To minimize the high costs of shipping by the mode and to minimize, if not eliminate, the use of a transport mode with a very large carbon footprint. Some companies pay lip service to sustainability. Wild Alaskan, by contrast, is heavily focused on the issue because it is required to be.
Language governing the sustainability of the seafood supply chain is enshrined in Alaska’s constitution, which reads in part that “fish resources be managed on the principle of sustained yield for the maximum benefit of Alaskan citizens.” Alaskan authorities are not shy about sanctioning or closing fisheries that don’t measure up. For example, a crab fishery was recently shut down because it failed to meet the state’s sustainability guidelines for harvesting female crabs.
“Alaska is the gold standard for sustainable seafood,” Babinski said.
The company charges $131.88, which includes shipping, for a 12-pouch box. The price escalates if a customer wants a 24-pouch box. Wild Alaskan tries to avoid shipping close to the weekend because it doesn’t want to run the risk of the seafood being compromised if the consumer isn’t around to accept it.
Wild Alaskan was founded by Arron Kallenberg, a third-generation Alaskan fisherman and a software engineer by training who spent 15 years at several Internet startups before starting the company in 2017. On Wild Alaskan’s website, Kallenberg rails against the popularity of farm-raised salmon, which he said is unhealthy for humans and harmful to the environment. Commercial production of farmed salmon, which is generally less expensive at the retail level than the wild-caught variety, soared from 1980 to 2010, according to a chart on the company’s site. Production of wild-caught salmon, by contrast, grew only slightly during that time.
About 91% of the seafood that Americans consume is imported, according to the site. Most of those imports are not sustainably harvested, the site said. At the same time, Alaska exports roughly two-thirds of its sustainably harvested seafood to foreign markets, notably China and Japan, according to the site.
“U.S. consumers have unknowingly downgraded their own seafood supply,” the site said. “We export the very best fish and import some of the worst alternatives.”
Kallenberg said that “seafood fraud” is rampant across the country, with farmed salmon being advertised as wild caught, or of fish of a totally different species being marketed as wild caught.