Louisiana Seafood Company Celebrates Success One Handshake at a Time

Jul 19, 2019  | 6 min  | Ep4448

The business of seafood can be treacherous, with many variables challenging producers. For one Louisiana seafood company, success has been measured by a pickup truck and one firm handshake at a time.

     After a mission trip in the late 1980’s, Tommy Deluane, moved back to Louisiana with his new wife. He decided to start a family and a new career in New Orleans.

Shalin Delaune, Vice President, Tommy’s Seafood: “And so, uh, they just pursued the American dream and started building their business with a pickup truck, work in early mornings, driving down to the docks, two, three, four o'clock every morning, getting the days fresh catch and, and bringing it right back to the city to sell to all of the best restaurants in the quarter.”

       In the years that followed their pursuit of the American dream, the Delaune’s would expand what is now Tommy’s Seafood. They brought their children into the mix and, in the early 1990’s, started to vertically integrate. 

Shalin Delaune, Vice President, Tommy’s Seafood: “We have control over, of course, over the catch from the moment that it's unloaded all the way to the final packaging, uh, at the last stage before it makes it to the consumer. So we, uh, our fishermen that we work with. They harvest the seafood for us, we unload it, we send it to our other facilities, we process it, we package it, we store it, we ship it, and it's ready for the rest of the world to enjoy.”

           Tommy’s Seafood sells several types of shrimp, oysters, and blue crab. But the company’s seafood mix is only part of their success. One way the Deluane’s are trying to sustain their family operation is to rely on the tools used decades ago when the business was taking its first steps.

Chalin Delaune, Vice President, Tommy Seafood: ”Growing up in Saint Bernard parish allowed me to be able to cultivate all of these long standing relationships that, uh, that, that my family had or that I was able to make along the way with other families who have a multigenerational fishing in their blood. So, uh, it is without a doubt one of the reasons why we're able to be so successful in this business.

     Of the 3.6 billion pounds of seafood landed in the contiguous 48-states, more than 1 billion of that total comes ashore in Louisiana. In 1990, the U.S. shrimp catch was just over 18 million pounds with an estimated value of $75 million dollars.

Almost three decades later, the 2018 harvest was 40 percent smaller at around 11 million pounds and the final tally cut nearly in half to come in at just over $40 million dollars.

Shalin Delaune, Vice President, Tommy’s Seafood: ”You know, we face not just competition here domestically, although it's a friendly competition, but we face a lot of competition overseas. So we consume about a billion pounds of shrimp here in the United States each year. And 90 percent of that comes from overseas. And that's 90 percent and counting. So their objective is to completely eliminate the domestic industry we're without a doubt the underdogs in this business.”

            The Pelican State’s seafood industry recently received some help from the Louisiana legislature and Governor John Bel Edwards. Last month, a new law was passed requiring food establishments to notify customers when the seafood they are being served is from a foreign source. The measure was introduced to put local commercial fisherman into the spotlight and help boost small town economies along Louisiana’s coast.

       Besides weathering the storm of ever changing markets with overseas competitors, Tommy’s Seafood has to navigate through an eco-system that can force changes to their product line in a flash.

 Shalin Delaune, Vice President, Tommy’s Seafood: ”Prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the industry, the waters, the marsh lands, they were a lot different than what they were today...We started seeing a whole lot more crabs show up in this area in a whole lot less shrimp. So that was another reason why we changed our tactics of just putting all of our focus on shrimp and diversifying more into crabs. Now we unload more crabs at our dock, then we do shrimp. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, it used to be the other way around. So, uh, you know, we're just finding ways to be creative and to make sure that we can still sustain ourselves.”

     Those long standing relationships are the backbone of their operation. Over the past five decades, the Deluane’s have expanded their reach across the Pacific to markets in Asia. They are hopeful their reputation will help them move across the Atlantic as they begin researching market opportunities in the European Union.  

The Deluanes have no plans to stop building on their successes and will continue to stick to the family’s main principles of quality product, reliable delivery and making a deal one handshake at a time.

Chalin Delaune, Vice President, Tommy Seafood:” Our Louisiana slogan, the official state motto is feed your soul. Right? And so I think that they go hand in hand with one another. When you think Louisiana, you think seafood, you think food, you think culture and it's just a, a big medley of awesomeness down here.”

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