Second generation lobster fisher finds new market with his lobster dip

Rob Morrison can’t imagine not lobster fishing. In fact, he’s fished every spring season since he left high school, with the exception of one year after he graduated from university. He was working with an accounting firm, “I just about went stir-crazy, it’s the only season I didn’t fish.”

Putting his degree to work, Morrison has been the comptroller for the PEI Potato Board for many years, but the water still calls to him each year, and he returns to fish during the spring lobster season.

He is the second generation in his family to fish lobster, and his two sons, Landon and Greg, are the third. He grew up around his father Fred’s fishing boat and by age ten was helping to gut cod and hake that were fished in the off-season. Once he was out of high school, he was able to join his dad (and occasionally his mother Pat as well) on the water for the lobster season.

Fred started fishing in 1969, and 40 years later he’s still out on the water in May and June, fishing out of Covehead Harbour on the North shore of PEI. “We have fun,” Rob said with a chuckle, “We’ve got the three generations, we all get along.”

Fred, Greg, Landon, and Rob Morrison
Photo credit: Al Douglas

As a fisher, Rob started to experiment with new ways to use the lobster they caught. He created a lobster dip and began to serve it to family and friends. “We camp all summer, so we spend a lot of time around the campfire with family and friends. And it was just something I played with,” he recalled. “People would be saying ‘oh, this is great, you should be selling this’.”

He joked that he mostly discounted their opinions at first but then he decided to take the next step and he went to Food Island Partnership (FIP), to see what help they could give him. He chatted with Tyson MacInnis, the director of company and product development.

“I was intrigued by the lobster dip Rob produced because there aren’t very many value-added lobster products available and it seemed like a gap in the market that his lobster dip could fill,” MacInnis said. “The fact that it was a high quality product with lots of PEI lobster and that it was being produced by a lobster fisher gave the product an opportunity to really stand out.”

“He [MacInnis] suggested that I develop the recipe, or really nail down the recipe, because in the beginning every time I made it, it was a little bit different,” Rob said. A visit to BioFoodTech helped to develop the recipe and make it consistent. MacInnis had also suggested that getting the dip to a chef to try would be a good trial, so Rob approached a friend who owned a restaurant and gave him the dip to try.

Rob Morrison prepares his lobster dip at BioFoodTech
Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

It was an instant hit. “He called me the next day and said ‘yeah, we’ll carry it for the summer’.” That was unexpected, but it propelled Rob into production, and kept the momentum going for him to continue to work with BioFoodTech to perfect the recipe and production cycle.

In the fall of 2018, he decided to make a cold call with his dip, “I just stopped in one day to MR Seafoods with the product and said ‘what do you think of this?’. And they said, ‘we like it, we’ll sell it if you want to start producing it’.” Production ramped up for a test of the product during the Christmas season, and at the same time, Rob enrolled in the FIP Food Xcel program.

MacInnis recalled, “After his initial test market received good feedback I worked with Rob on next steps, such as costing and pricing, and how to scale up the business. The timing worked out that we were organizing our second Food Xcel Startup Competition around that same time so I encouraged him to participate.”

Food Xcel allowed Rob to tap into expert advice, workshops, mentorships, and support for his business. It also offered a chance to compete for a $25,000 award from Innovation PEI’s Ignition Fund. Covehead Seafoods was one of eight finalists who stepped in front of three judges on February 20 to pitch their food product ideas for the prize.

He was the successful winner of that competition and the money was immediately used. “I used it to become more efficient in my production. I purchased a bigger commercial mixer and the big thing was a filling machine, cause we were filling these tubs manually before.”

Each month, he uses the BioFoodTech facilities to produce 2000 units of the 175g containers, packing local lobster, fresh vegetables like red pepper and green onion, and other ingredients into the dip. “Lobster is our number one ingredient,” he proudly said. “The only meat in there is lobster meat.” The lobster he uses is all from PEI, sourced through MR Seafoods and the local lobster plants here. Unlike the days when he was using lobster fresh off his dad’s boat, these days he has to purchase it from a federally regulated facility.

Originally created as a fresh dip, it is now flash-frozen and sold as a frozen product. That decision was all about shelf-life, and as Rob didn’t want to add extra preservatives to the dip, there were a few more tweaks required for his recipe. “The whole frozen thing, it’s gonna work out great, because it’s stable…you can ship it anywhere in its frozen state, you don’t have to worry about shelf life.” Once thawed, it has a shelf life of seven days.

Greg, Fred, Landon, and Rob Morrison on the water
Photo credit: Al Douglas

Currently the dip is sold at MR Seafoods, Gallant’s & Co, Doiron Fisheries, Riverview Market, and a few other stores across PEI. It is also carried in Halifax at the Fisherman’s Market (again, through MR Seafoods connections).

Rob said they struggled with calling it a ‘dip’ as it is more versatile than just an addition to a cheese and cracker platter. When asked what his favourite way to eat the dip, he quickly replied “on top of a barbequed steak”. He’s also fond of using it in a twice-baked potato, and adding to fish tacos as a topping.

The next big step for Covehead Seafoods is getting it into the Atlantic Sobeys stores. Rob has been working with the Sobeys division for several months and is anticipating that the product will roll out across stores later this fall. The aim, just like when he launched with MR Seafoods, is to get the dip out for the Christmas market, as it is an ideal premium product. From there he’d like to see the product in Toronto and Montreal stores.

Should the demand for the lobster dip increase substantially, Covehead Seafoods will need to move out of the BioFoodTech production facility and into their own space. Rob said, “If we have some success, that’s something we are going to have to think about, that would be the next step… I would love to make that leap to my own little spot, it wouldn’t have to be big or grand.”

Big or small, it’s clear that Covehead Seafoods is on the way to tasting success.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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