What sort of things come to mind when you think of lobster? Maybe you picture coastal Maine or New England, a nice restaurant, or fancy menu items like Surf & Turf or Lobster Bisque. You probably don't picture prisoners, servants and canned meat. Lobster has come a long way, and we can learn a lesson in branding from its history.
I read an interesting article this weekend called "How Lobster Got Fancy", and I encourage you to click over and read the full piece too. But, if you're pressed for time this morning, I've recapped the facts and tidbits that I found to be most interesting below.
-- Lobster is an expensive food today, and that's due to supply and demand. The price diners pay depends on how much lobstermen are able to catch, and unfortunately that price can surge as much as 18% in one year, like it did in 2012. It wasn't always this way.
-- Lobster used to be so abundant that it was thought of as a trash food. Something you would serve only to servants and prisoners, certainly not esteemed guests. People hated the look of them (I can understand that- they're pretty ugly creatures), and it was common (and cheap!) to buy lobster meat in cans. It didn't really matter that lobster meat was delicious; social influences determine our food choices more than how the food tastes. (Psst.. check out this post for another interesting article about social influences and food enjoyment.)
-- Lobsters have railroads to thank, in part, for their improved social status. Inland passengers were unfamiliar with lobster's lowbrow reputation among coastal residents, so trains began serving lobsters as an "exotic" menu item. People loved the taste and began to request it in restaurants. It also helped that around this time, chefs realized that cooking lobsters live greatly improved their flavor.
-- As lobsters became more popular, fishermen noticed a decrease in population, and so the price was driven up. The industry took a hit during the Great Depression, when no one was able to afford the dish. Thankfully, this period of time allowed the lobster population to recover slightly.
-- During WWII, lobster resurged in popularity because it wasn't rationed like other food items. People of all classes ate it frequently and loved the taste. By the 1950s, it was back to being a delicacy.
I just love that story... such a great example of smart branding!