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The Race to Cultivate Incipient Demand for Lionfish Meat

lionfish invasion

Lionfish Population Control

by Kenneth Rudich 

(Editor’s note: Our last blog post discusses the concept of incipient consumer demand.  You can learn more about all three forms of consumer demand – salient, incipient and latent demand — by downloading our FREE 50 page business eGuide: How to Properly Vet a Value Proposition.  Watch the video promo for it, and then collect the pdf version by clicking on the title.  Share the guide with colleagues, friends and others.) 

The Scary Lionfish Surge

With an insatiable appetite and unmercifully venomous spines, the lionfish has lately garnered attention for posing a threat to the coral reefs off the eastern coast of the United States, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Though not indigenous to this region, it somehow got introduced somewhere back in time, perhaps as recently as a few decades ago.  Because of a predisposition to rapidly procreate, the population has since swollen in size; and with no native predators to curb the runaway growth, we now risk an invasion large enough to exact a horrible toll on the other forms of marine life that naturally inhabit these waters. 

Depending on how this circumstance is dealt with from this day forward, it’s either an environmental crisis or a market opportunity just waiting to happen — and one way or the other, it will. 

Incipient Consumer Demand Needed

The silver lining in this grim news is that lionfish are edible, despite the presence of venom in their bodies.  Think of the venom as contained in small pools or pockets that sit apart from the white meat area.  This keeps it safe from contamination. 

The meat itself is often compared to hogfish, which is one of the most popular reef fish served in restaurants.  The buttery taste and flakey texture allow it to be prepared in numerous ways.  From raw to deep fried, grilled to blackened, it offers the palate an opportunity to dance with savory delight. 

As a result, one possible solution for controlling the population of lionfish is to get people to start eating the meat — preferably on a regular basis, much like they do beef, chicken, pasta or eggs.  If successful, this will ratchet up the commercial fishing for it, which could in turn scale back their numbers. 

At present, however, no such form of consumer demand – called salient demand – exists for the lionfish meat.  In fact, it’s so small that it might be described as anemic, which means the next best hope is to cultivate a larger degree of incipient demand, with the aspiration of having it ultimately evolve into salient demand over time.  As you may recall from the last two posts, incipient demand speaks to the ability for identifying new solutions to current or emerging needs/motives, while salient demand refers to serving current needs/motives in a presently active market. 

In this instance, the environmental danger that looms ahead has spawned an emerging need, while consumer demand for tasty seafood has already been well-established. 

Unfortunately, the desire or motive to eat lionfish in particular is struggling to gain real traction.  Speculation might suggest this is due in part to a lack of awareness about it being an alternative source for delicious seafood. 

Perhaps another obstacle lies with the misperception of it being dangerous to consume.  This could be the consequence of people confusing venomous with poisonous, which are distinctly different.  Poisonous means it is dangerous to eat – because the entire body is laced with poison.  Venomous, as illustrated earlier, means it’s safe to eat as long as it’s properly prepared (bear in mind, this same cooking advice also applies to chicken, pork and beef). 

A focus on creating a robust demand for lionfish meat is more than merely just a good idea.  In fact, it could have a profoundly favorable impact on sustainability, which is another big concern we humans face in this day and age.  As you may know, the concept of sustainability pertains to the quality of our economic, social and environmental stewardship for preserving human survival.  The opportunity that now stands before us — that is, eating lionfish meat — can generate an economic good, a social good and an environmental good.  Here are a few possible benefits encompassing all three: 

  • Rather than depleting the earth of renewable resources, which could otherwise happen if this matter is left unattended, it can help to conserve the ecological integrity of the reef.
  • It can help to reduce or counteract the over-harvesting of other fish food, such as cod or grouper (the latter of which, btw, is one of the few predators of the lionfish).
  • The plentiful supply can generate ongoing work, therefore making it operate as an economic engine (experts believe it’s impossible to eradicate the lionfish).
  • The plentiful supply could aid with feeding the hungry and needy throughout the world, if we so choose to go that route.
  • Lionfish meat is high in Omega 3 fats, which play a role in brain functioning and may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Obtaining any or all of these benefits starts with nurturing incipient demand.  I dare imagine there are several major food providers who would find that this challenge fits in their wheelhouse.  To them I only say: From a market opportunity standpoint, just think of the brand equity it could build. 

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