Julie Qiu, Chief Oyster Specialist at InaHalfShell.com has explored over 300 varieties of oysters from six continents, 15 countries, and across hundreds of unique regions. Besides writing about oysters, she is also a freelance brand strategist.
When I set out to become a connoisseur of oysters five years ago, I was both fascinated and overwhelmed by the vast number of oyster varieties. Getting to know them was a trial-and-error/slurp-by-the-seat-of-my-pants process at first. For a while, I clutched hard to my copy of A Geography of Oysters by Rowan Jacobsen for guidance (and sheer comfort) and fastidiously recorded my own tasting notes about each new oyster that I encountered. Gradually, I became familiar and knowledgeable about the different growing regions and their most prominent varietals.
Today as an informed consumer, I am faced with a new challenge: the explosion of boutique oyster brands. Generally, I'm excited to learn about and try new oyster brands on the market. Even when they're coming out of familiar regions, I expect to feel a difference. That difference, though, isn't necessarily about the taste. Thanks to digital communications and social media, branded oysters offer an opportunity for me to learn more about who grows them, how they're grown, and how they impact their local environment/community. From personal experience, I believe that oyster brands created by honest, passionate, and proactive growers are good for consumers and the industry overall for the following reasons:
- They often take the time to educate me about what I'm eating and help build trust in our locally farmed seafood
- They provide me with a certain level of accountability (I know exactly where my oyster is coming from)
- They help reduce risk (familiarity) and bad experiences (consistent product)
- They allow me to engage and support individuals who truly care about what they're growing
The caveat here is that many oyster brands on the market are arbitrarily created. New names -- clever or cheeky or sophisticated -- are developed for almost an entertainment value instead of for differentiation. For the average oyster consumer, who currently perceive little difference between regions, let alone specific oyster brands, it creates more confusion than enlightenment. Too much of this may ultimately undermine the value-building efforts of the entire industry.
As a marketer and brand strategist, my livelihood depends on companies who want to build strong and lasting brands. In effort to do so, I believe that just like growing the product itself, oyster brands should be responsibly and ethically cultivated. It doesn't happen overnight, and it takes a considerable amount of know-how, time, and energy to grow and build a brand that people will recognize, trust, and love. Most importantly, it doesn't (or at least shouldn't) begin and end with just a name.