Gorton's Seafood's 'Mer-bros' are back for Lent amid frozen-food upswing

The male mermaids tout new product news

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With Lent on the horizon, Gorton's Seafood is bringing back its male mermaids—or "mer-bros"—as it rides a wave of momentum in the revitalized frozen-food category.

The brand debuted the mer-bros last year as part of new cast of characters in a move to update its look, which had long been defined by its yellow-raincoat-wearing fisherman character, who debuted in 1975.

The fisherman "is kind of iconic to the brand and well recognized," says Chris Hussey, VP of marketing at Gorton's Seafood. Still, the brand wants to attract younger buyers and knows plenty of people didn't grow up hearing the "Trust the Gorton's fisherman" jingle. It sought a creative approach that brought life to the character in a way "that is appealing to millennials and emerging families in particular," she says.

Now, after sales increased aided by the "Trusted by those who know" brand campaign from Connelly Partners, Gorton's has new ads emphasizing updated products. Last fall, it began selling breaded fish sticks and filets that are flash-frozen, or frozen right after catch and then processed. Its fish sticks are also larger and made with whole fillets rather than minced, another attribute meant to appeal to people looking for higher quality products, says Hussey.

This year, there are new mer-bros who are a bit less bro-y and more in touch with their emotions. Poseidon has returned as well, but the castaway isn't back, at least for now.

The brand is using the sidekick characters to talk about the new products because "if the fisherman were to deliver that, it would come across as a little too boastful," says Alyssa Toro, chief creative officer at Connelly Partners.

The updated ads come as Gorton's and other seafood brands gear up for Lent, a busy time for the brand because people often eat more seafood while abstaining from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays. (This year, Lent falls from March 6 through April 20.) Retailers also tend to promote the products more at this time of year, says Hussey.

The push also comes as frozen food is, well, hot. Frozen food sales rose 2.6 percent in dollars and rose 2.3 percent in units in 2018, according to the "Power of Frozen" research report the American Frozen Food Institute and Food Marketing Institute plan to issue later this month. Seafood is the fifth-largest frozen food category, they say, with 69 percent of households buying frozen seafood. And according to IRI, frozen seafood sales, in dollars, rose 4.1 percent to $4.82 billion last year, with stronger growth for frozen shrimp than other products.

Gorton's increased ad spending by 29 percent from the first half of 2017 to the first half of 2018, according to Chris. This year, it's putting more weight behind TV ads rather than social, while last year, there was more weight behind social than TV.

Frozen fish isn't the only category getting more marketing backing and TV time. Kraft Heinz's Devour, a line of meals aimed at men, just aired its first Super Bowl commercial.

Gorton's is owned by Japan's Nippon Suisan Kaisha Ltd.

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