Branding promotes Inland Bays Oysters

“Inland Bays Oysters: A Southern Delaware delicacy.”

That’s the tagline for a new marketing campaign.

The campaign is a product of Delaware Sea Grant, which is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. Sea Grant promotes coastal and marine conservation research, education and training.

Delaware Sea Grant was awarded a USDA Rural Business Enterprise grant specifically to develop the Inland Bays Oysters brand. Stakeholders met January 11 at Bluecoast Seafood Grill and Raw Bar in Rehoboth Beach to reveal the results.

“We’re trying to create an umbrella brand for inland bays oysters, one that everybody can market their distinct brand under,” said Ed Lewandowski, Sea Grant coastal communities development specialist. “This will allow us to increase visibility, maybe get into the market at a higher price point and tell everybody about this product that we now have here in coastal Delaware.”

The oyster industry in the Inland Bays died out in 1970s after overharvesting and disease ravaged the beds. In 2013, Governor Jack Markell signed legislation aimed at reestablishing an Inland Bays shellfish industry, but protests from citizens delayed action.

Growers finally began distributing oyster spat in Rehoboth Bay in spring 2018. So far, Mark and Dan Casey of Delaware Cultured Seafood, Chris Redefer of Dewey Selects and Chuck Gifford of Dewey Beach Oyster Company have all leased bay-bottom acreage.

The growers aren’t the only ones promoting the reemerging industry. According to Chris Bason, director of the Center for the Inland Bays, oysters are good for both the economy and the environment.

Bivalves act as a natural water filter, removing one of the bays’ most abundant and problematic pollutants: nitrogen. Excess nitrogen causes a glut of algae and seaweed, murky water, low oxygen levels and the disappearance of bay grasses. All of these contribute to the decline of bay species. About 500,000 oysters can be grown per acre of bay bottom, and each can filter about 20 gallons of water a day.

“If we could get 100 acres of oysters in the inland bays, which we will in a few years, that’s a billion gallons [of water filtered] a day,” he said. “I get asked a lot ‘What is something I can do as an individual to help clean up the water in the inland bays?’ And it’s a really easy answer now: eat the inland bays oysters.”

Kent Messer is the director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Experimental & Applied Economics. He conducted a study on the consumer demand for Inland Bays Oysters.

“Name brands matter. They help draw a certain identity behind oysters. Consumers like that,” Messer said.

His study found a handful of interesting facts:

Consumers value the smell of oysters the most, followed by the saltiness, meat size and meat color. Infrequent and first-time consumers prefer wild-caught oysters while frequent buyers prefer aquaculture oysters. Consumers taking part in the study were willing to pay an average of 81 cents per oyster. Female consumers are willing to pay 33 percent less per oyster compared to males. As the age of consumers increases by one year, the rpice they are willing to pay drops by 2.4 percent.

Another study found that a $300,000 to $500,000 investment could grow to between $1 and $2 million in profits.

“It’s a pretty cool product,” Messer said. “It helps support jobs, restaurants and growers and the public good. It’s one of the few things that the more we have, the better the environment gets.”