By Sean Horgan Staff Writer
PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photoShelly Van Cleve, standing, granddaughter Bella Talbert, 1, and Bella’s mom, Monica Van-Cleve-Talbert laugh as Bella does a fish-face while they check out a tote of fresh haddock Wednesday on the boat docks at the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange. The three generations are in town to buy Gloucester haddock for a new line of seafood at their Van Cleve Seafood Company, based in Virginia.
PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photoShelly Van Cleve, standing, Bella Talbert, 1, and Bella’s mom, Monica Van Cleve-Talbert watch seagulls from the boat docks.
When executives at Gloucester-based Intershell Inc. decided to ramp up the company’s presence at the Seafood Expo North America in March, they hoped at the very least to develop new relationships that could slingshot into additional sales. Intershell did strong business during the three days the vast show ran at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston, shipping orders to new customers stretching from New York to Texas.
Now it can add the bustling burg of Spotsylvania, Virginia, to the list of new out-of-state clients.
Intershell has entered into an agreement with the Spotsylvania-based Van Cleve Seafood Co. to fully source Gloucester-landed haddock for a new line of ultra-healthy frozen seafood the all-female-owned company is developing for national distribution from its facility near the Chesapeake Bay.
“We think this could evolve into a very good revenue stream for local fishermen,” said Frank Ragusa of Intershell. “We’ve also talked with them about sourcing North Atlantic pollock, as well, which would really help build up the market for pollock and help our guys out even more. And it all started with a conversation at the seafood show.”
In that conversation, the women from Van Cleve — mother Shelly Van Cleve and her daughters Monica Van Cleve-Talbert and Alexandra Cushing — explained to the Intershell executives that they were looking for the cleanest, freshest seafood they could find for the new line.
No fillers. No injected solutions. No chemicals. Nothing but the “absolute cleanest, highest quality seafood” would do.
“That’s where Intershell comes in,” said Van Cleve-Talbert, who serves as chief executive officer for the seafood company. “When we met them at the Seafood Expo and they explained how clean and natural their seafood is, and, well, we really didn’t really believe them at first.”
Come to Gloucester and see for yourself, they were told.
Landing fresh haddock
On Wednesday, three female generations of the Van Cleve Seafood founding family — Van Cleve, Van Cleve-Talbert and Van Cleve-Talbert’s 1-year-old daughter, Bella — spent the day in Gloucester.
They toured the Intershell facility in the Blackburn Industrial Park before trekking down to the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange on Harbor Loop for a photo shoot to generate images to help promote the new line.
The images they had in mind were something that could capture the essence of America’s oldest commercial seaport, something that reflected both the working nature and history of the port and the quality of the seafood that comes from the cold waters around Cape Ann.
The perfect image, they thought, would include a working Gloucester fishing boat landing fresh haddock. Ragusa got in touch with Capt. Gus Sanfilippo of the F/V Capt. Dominic and asked if he and his crew were ready for their closeups.
Late in the afternoon, after the Miss Trish II finished landing its haul at the exchange, the Capt. Dominic, hobbled by a fouled prop, still made its way around the breakwater and to the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, its hold full of haddock.
“People now want to know the story behind their food, where it comes from, how it’s handled and prepared,” Van Cleve-Talbert said. “Then we learned the story of Gloucester. Now we feel honored to share the story of Gloucester with our consumers.”
Wild. Skinny. Clean.’
The Van Cleve family started their seafood company in a tiny wooden crab shack in 2001, preparing fresh seafood — Blue Crab Pie, homemade gumbo and jumbo lump crab-stuffed prawns among the dishes produced from family recipes. They added prepared foods, as well.
They expanded in 2004, adding a restaurant, gift shop and a growing line of frozen seafood items. In 2013, they decided they had to ramp-up production and distribution of their popular products. They appeared on QVC and Lifetime’s “Supermarket Superstars” and other food-related shows. They were mentioned in Oprah Magazine’s O List of Favorite Things.
The word was getting out. Their products were in supermarkets, specialty stores and restaurants. They were a regional phenomenon.
Now, they believe the new value-added line — which is steeped in wild-caught, domestic sustainable seafood and health-conscious ingredients — has the potential to make Van Cleve Seafood a national player and position it as a purveyor of the highest-quality, healthiest frozen seafoods.
The new line’s marketing motto is “Wild. Skinny. Clean.”
“It’s 100 percent functional food that is 100 percent healthy for the body,” Van Cleve-Talbert said. “We call it a ‘free-from’ line because it really is free from additives and chemicals. My sister and I, as we’ve gotten older and had our own children, have become much more conscious of healthy foods and we want to offer seafood that consumers can eat on a daily basis.”
The company, she said, is about ready to launch the new line into 36 new stores next month — including two national retailers that Shelly Van Cleve declined to name.
And it may not stop at food. The women running the show at Van Cleve also are considering seafood-based health and beauty products made from, among other items, haddock skins.
And because of a simple conversation at the Seafood Expo, Intershell and Gloucester are becoming a big part of the story.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.