As the freshwater shrimp in his ponds continued to grow and multiply, Charles Carter knew he had a good product to sell.
In his second year of production, Carter wanted to create product buzz to sell a portion of his production to local consumers. As a member of the Virginia Aquafarmers Network, Carter was already selling product wholesale, but also wanted to market retail.
Carter, whose family has owned the Shirley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia, for 11 generations, knew just where to look for assistance — Virginia Cooperative Extension.
He had already relied heavily on the expertise of Brian Nerrie, a seafood Extension specialist from Virginia State University, to help get his shrimp operation off the ground. Carter used the many online resources about starting a fresh water shrimp operation and asked Nerrie countless questions along the way about everything from feeding to harvesting. Now he needed to expand his market.
Enter Dan Kauffman, an Extension seafood marketing specialist at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton, Virginia.
Kauffman has been working for about four years on helping freshwater shrimp producers get their products to market, which also involved another part of his resume — his love of shrimp boils.
Though freshwater shrimp are common in states south of Virginia, they have only started to take off in the commonwealth in recent years. Raising freshwater shrimp can add diversity to a producer’s portfolio and earn extra income. The average American eats more than 3.6 pounds of marine shrimp a year.
“There is already a robust marine shrimp market, but people don’t often know about freshwater prawns,” said Kauffman, whose home department in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.
Kauffman has been working on ways to increase the market visibility of the product with the aim of helping producers increase the value and reach of their products.
Working with the Virginia Aquafarmers Network, he has paired producers with gourmet supermarkets, restaurants, local, seafood producers, and more. But one of the best ways to connect to customers is to get them to the farm where shrimp are being raised and have an old-fashion shrimp boil.
Kauffman and Extension Specialist Martha Walker worked with Carter on the best ways to promote a shrimp boil, which would be timed to coincide with the harvest. Funding came in part from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal State Marketing Improvement Program and Virginia Sea Grant.
“The local food movement is a great way to expose your product to as many people as you can and the shrimp boil went a long way in helping me brand my product,” Carter said.
The team figured out the menu, contacted the Culinary Institute of Virginia to line up chefs-in-training for the event, and helped market the event.
When the day arrived, it was a huge success, Carter said.
Two sittings of more than 250 people gobbled up the delicious shrimp that were grown a few yards away from where they were being eaten. Customers also asked how they could buy the shrimp and when the next boil would be because they wanted to bring their entire company to the event.
“There is definitely room to grow this market, but you need to market your product well and that’s where we can help lend a hand,” Kauffman said.
Carter said the direct sales and shrimp boils are the most profitable way for him to sell his shrimp, and he said he owes part of his success to Virginia Cooperative Extension.
“They were really a great partner in this entire process,” he said.