ASMI’s Ashley Heimbigner said that online buying trends which began in the pandemic will continue after it’s over — to the benefit of Alaska’s seafood industry. (ASMI image)

Alaska’s seafood industry took a beating in 2020, but didn’t disappear altogether. Sure, the restaurant market – or food services – sector all but disappeared, but the industry saw solid growth in an unexpected corner – online sales.

Ashley Heimbigner is the communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau. Heimbigner told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this month (3-9-22) that ASMI was capitalizing on social media’s love affair with Alaskan seafood.

“Influencers, like them or hate them, they’re a big part of global marketing now,” she said. “73% of consumers make purchases after seeing them on social media and 61% trust subject matter experts as spokespeople. We will continue to use other platforms they started using in 2020, with TikTok as well, after the pandemic. If you missed it, there was a viral video last fall by Emily Marika who’s a TikTok influencer that was a salmon bowl, that made it across all social media platforms, and even into retail sales.”

Heimbigner said that 77-percent of people who began buying Alaskan seafood online during the pandemic would continue to do so when it’s over. The relationship between consumers and product is strengthened by the solid appeal of Alaska seafood – and its sustainable message.

“So this probably no surprise to anyone here, but 75% of consumers — probably more — want to become more knowledgeable about seafood,” said Heimbigner. “They want to know where it comes from. They want a postcard. They want to understand the system practices behind it. They want to know who got it, the nutritional value, and then how they think of it themselves. So our work is in creating transparency across all of those questions, and highlighting the really incredible story that allows us to tell.”

Heimbigner touched briefly on the fluctuating international market, pointing out that sales to China had decreased significantly following President Trump’s trade war in 2018, while smaller markets in the Americas had grown “exponentially.” Still, those paled compared to the strength of Alaskan seafood domestically.  “Truly,” she said, “the US wallet has always been our most important market.”