Monday, March 25, 2013

The Ocean’s Hot Dog – The Fish Stick and its Development

The Ocean’s Hot Dog – The Fish Stick and its Development 

by Éva Révész

At first sight it might seem strange to mention fish sticks together with the topics like science parks and clusters but as you will see, they are strongly related.

Transport costs are extremely important in the theory of New Economic Geography and in each and every field of economics. With the lowering of transport costs, after a certain point the economy settles in agglomeration. In agglomerations, innovations start as ideas are close to each other, so these happenings give way to the formation of clusters and science parks, as well. That is exactly the thing that happened in the fish stick industry. Let’s have a closer look at it!

The fish stick is a postwar invention as Paul Josephson says in his study. First, people abstained from trying it as they did not look great and people were not used to these types of „fast food”. But later on, as innovations were made to improve the quality and their looks, and as women became busier and had less time to cook they began to use ready-to-cook food like fish sticks. In order to make it profitable, so called „floating factories” were built, ie. ships that had the necessary equipment onboard to prepare the ready-to-cook fish sticks (fishing, cleaning, freezing, canning, etc. were done still on board). (The picture represents a fish processor/factory mother ship from the late 1980s from Finland.)

What is more, to propagate the consumption of these types of food, innovations occured in freezing and storing techniques and in transportation, too. Supermakets, which were opened in the 1930s in the US, had to install high-capacity refrigerated display cases where the product could be properly stored. What is more, trucks and railway cars having the new freezing techniques were introduced in order to ease the transportation of fish sticks and other fresh and frozen goods on land. Even the expansion of the federal highway system in the 1950s helped the industry to proceed. That is why transportation costs became lower.

What else happened? Other innovations and regulations in terms of the quality also helped the fish stick to become a widely popular food of Americans. Strange as it seems, but scientists from such – nowadays popular – universities as MIT or Harvard made researches. Economists form Harvard made a detailed report to determine the proper long-term strategy to secure the position of Gorton’s (discussed later on) within the industry and researchers from MIT’s Department of Food Technology helped the same firm to improve the quality control and efficiency of production of fish sticks. MIT even sponsored the so called „first seminar in the history of frozen foods industry”. Almost a whole science park centered around this small industry to help and propagte it!

As I have already mentioned, the Gorton’s Gloucester Corporation was a small company that later became the leader of this industry by the good managing of the firm. It constantly expanded its product line, paid huge attention to the quality of its products and advertised a lot to attract consumers. As time passed, other firms, like Birds Eye and Fulham Brothers entered the market of fish sticks and other frozen foods, which first seemed great as these firms began to act like a cluster in Massachusetts: they competed against each other, on the other hand they improved the quality of the products, which was good news to the consumers, and paid significant attention to the level of it. But later on, unfortunately, competition grew bigger at the expense of quality.

What is the end of the story? Fish sticks did not become as popular as hamburgers in America, but not even elsewhere. The industry boomed in an unbelievable way but shrinked in the same way and with the same speed as it started out. Why did it happen? In my opinion, it was not as popular as hamburger among ordinary people, as it still needed some cooking, so as the quality worsened people began to substitute it with something else. One thing is sure: fish sticks became only „the ocean’s hot dog”, not „the ocean’s hamburger”.


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