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Case Study: Making Lobster Affordable… and Profitable

Four years ago, Linda Bean, granddaughter of famed L.L. Bean, bought a house overlooking a Maine harbor, rugged and beautiful, anchored by a vista of iconic lobster boats. With the house came a lobster wharf and a lobster pound, and so Bean rather suddenly entered the lobster business as a wholesale buyer and dealer. She took to it like a duck to water, and has since added two more lobster wharves, a live lobster overnight shipping facility, a seafood-processing plant and an emerging lobster frozen-food line, plus nine foodservice operations (so far). And along the way, Bean has become a champion of the lobster industry, initiating international certification of Maine lobster by the Marine Stewardship Council, a U.K.-based organization that promotes sustainability.

Underpinning her commitment to protecting Maine’s lobster resource is a recognition that the future of Maine fishing jobs is in danger. “The compelling part for me is getting the lobstermen a fair wage,” says Bean. “They’re struggling. Their practices are sustainable, but the demand has gone down. Lobster is viewed as a luxury product. We’re trying to increase demand by creating affordable lobster products.” One of the ways she’s doing that is by utilizing other parts of the lobster—apart from the prized tail. “Our lobster rolls and lobster stew move lobster away from special occasion to everyday,” she says. “My fishermen and employees want to make Maine lobster an accessible, natural food. I’ve created places where you can go every day and have a nutritious, wild-caught Maine lobster sandwich—it’s not just for celebrations.”

To pay her fishermen more, Bean has applied her business education and background to deploy a vertical-integration model that captures margins that she can share at the shore. “From trap to table, if my working team can capture profit margins and shoot bonuses back down to our fishermen, we hope we can keep fishing families on the water—now and into future generations.” Last season, she paid out $919,129 in bonuses to her fishermen.