Fishwife’s attention-grabbing brand design differentiates it from canned competitors, such as Bumble Bee and StarKist, possibly allowing it to spend less on marketing.
Fishwife sells its three-pack of “Wild-Caught Smoked Albacore Tuna” for $27 on its website, where there's an implication that consumers are paying for quality and sustainability—the product description includes phrases such as “each fish is caught by one fishing pole, one at a time, to minimize bycatch and maximize quality control,” and “hand-packed, and canned in British Columbia.”
A three-pack of Bumble Bee “chunk light tuna in water,” for comparison, doesn't come with any of those upscale descriptors—but it's also only $3 and change from Walmart.
Fishwife started experimenting with paid marketing in July 2022. During the experimental phase, it was spending around $2,000 per month on Google Shopping and Facebook, Millstein said.
Paid spend is “extremely insignificant in terms of where our customer acquisition comes from,” Millstein said, although she did not share exact figures. But spending could grow as Fishwife’s sales targets evolve, Millstein said.
“Not to brag, but we basically did 2X higher than we had projected for our highest projection for Q4. So we were already working very, very hard on the operational side to keep up with the demand that we were getting during the holiday season. We could have invested more, but there was no need,” Millstein said.
What the experts say
Kendall Dickieson, the founder of Flexible Creative who has worked with other DTC brands in Whole Foods such as Graza, said Fishwife had “a whole lot” to do with the tinned fish category’s recent uptick in popularity. Fishwife has loyal followers who would make a journey to Whole Foods just because the brand is there, Dickieson said.
That’s partly because Fishwife “stays close” to its customers through “surveys that are so overlooked by so many brands,” said Grace Clarke, who founded GGC Consulting and has also worked on brands such as Graza.
“They phrase their [survey] questions in such a way that they actually get real qualitative answers. … They truly want to understand what is motivating their customer deep down,” she continued. Additionally, “DTC brands on the shelf actually elevate existing categories that are slowing down,” Clarke explained.
People going to the canned fish aisle specifically to buy Fishwife probably haven’t visited that section ever before, so there’s potential to increase cart value for that whole section—as well as actually move foot traffic around a store, which could bolster other categories too, per Clarke.
“I think they also understand that the people who are in their community don’t need to be a buyer just yet,” Clarke added.
Fishwife will continue expanding into more Whole Foods regions as the year goes on. The next rollout, according to Millstein, will be Northern California this summer. It will also use the Whole Foods marketing engine for ad support such as in-store signage and on-premise events.
For instance, Fishwife and Whole Foods are planning to host a Whole Foods event at a still-to-be-determined Southern California location.
“It’s going to be a huge anchovy-centric bash,” she explained—and what could be more Fishwife than that?