Transforming from a commodity to a premium oyster brand

Coffin Bay Oyster Farm brand strategy and design

In a recent blog on the premium nature of artisan food brands we spoke about our great friend and client Lester Marshall from the Coffin Bay Oyster Farm. Lester is a truly interesting character.

Two years ago he was a passionate Oyster Farmer in the majestic waters of Coffin Bay, near Port Lincoln, South Australia. Today he is an astute master of branding. He has had a paradigm shift that is transforming his business. He has set in play a strategy that is moving his business from simply selling his succulent oysters unbranded in hessian bags to one that markets a portfolio of premium branded oysters. His awakening to the power of branding has also seen him become an inspirational speaker and educator on how to build premium regional food brands.


A Brand Awakening
We first met Lester a couple of years ago when we were engaged to redefine the regional brand of the Eyre Peninsula on the southern coast of South Australia. Lester was an active participant in a number of brand exploration sessions we conducted with a large cross section of stakeholders, and as a member of the Eyre Peninsula Development Board he also participated in the brand definition workshop we ran.

But what we did not realise at the time was that in addition to assisting us to define a compelling brand proposition for the regional brand he was going through an absolute transformation in his own thinking. He was awakened to the realisation that the same branding approach could, and importantly, should be applied to his own oyster business. And when Lester grabs a concept he grabs it firmly in both hands and squeezes it ever so firmly – he will never die wondering. And his squeezing has began to shape an amazing journey.

Lester Marshall went from operating his business under the name of ‘Marshell’ Aquaculture (yes a crazy little play on the name Marshall) to seizing the brand name Coffin Bay Oyster Farm. And we say seizing, because over many years Coffin Bay had created very strong brand equity with oyster lovers, as a region of oyster farmers producing superb oysters. Quality restaurants throughout Australia regularly highlighted Coffin Bay oysters on their menus and in one very bold move Lester was able to directly leverage this equity into his own business – he became the Coffin Bay Oyster Farm. He was able to claim this latent equity simply because none of his fellow oyster farmers operated with a brand mindset. They simply saw themselves as oyster produces, whereas Lester’s awakening meant that he saw himself as a creator of branded oysters.

The visual language for Coffin Bay Oyster Farm unashamedly continued to leverage the equity of the area. We hunted-down a photo of an historic oyster ketch from Coffin Bay circa 1880 when under sail the fishermen dredged the native oyster beds of Coffin Bay. The ketch image formed the foundation of brand identity for the Coffin Bay Oyster Farm. We developed a palette of supporting brand visual language rich in cues of premium and premium food and applied it to a suite of targeted brand communication points.

But that was only the beginning. He then set about establishing a portfolio of sub-brands that would allow him to produce different oysters for different occasions and importantly different price points. Take the Cupids for example, a small (40-50 millimeters) oyster that is ‘sweet, delicate and petite’. While they may be smaller than a standard oyster, they are twice as expensive. They are for the oyster eater seeking quality over quantity. Lester’s brand mindset has moved him away from thinking that he is dealing in commodities, that an oyster is an oyster. Different consumers, different eating occasions and different branded Coffin Bay Oyster Farm products to meet these needs – it is the oyster world through a brand lens.

Coffin Bay Oyster Farm Range

The Value of a Brand
As Lester has transformed his business from a commodity oyster supplier to a recognisable premium oyster brand, he has been able to command a premium price for his product. Coffin Bay Oyster Farm oysters fetch as much as four times the price per kilogram as Lester used to earn for his unbranded product.

And for Lester his brand journey has taken him far from the blue waters of Coffin Bay. He applied for and was successful in being awarded a Nuffield scholarship to travel overseas and study the marketing of regional food brands. His travels took him to China, Europe, South Africa and Japan where he has been able to explore an amazing array of premium food brands and their pathways to success. He has literally eaten his way around the world, piecing together a framework for the creation of powerful regional food brands.

This rather exhilarating brand journey all commenced because Lester was open to new ideas. All in all, a shucking good effort! Bring on the Cupids.



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