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(Sea)food entrepreneurship at its best: Red's Best

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Every once in a while you meet a food entrepreneur who gives you real hope. Last week, I braved the bitter Boston winter wind to go talk to one: Jared Auerbach of Red’s Best on the Boston Fish Pier.

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What Jared has built and operates for Boston and our precious coastline is magnificent and mind-blowing. Red’s Best is both highly sophisticated software infrastructure and masterful boots-on-the-ground logistics. Being both is something few middle-of-the-supply-chain food system innovators have managed to pull off.

Before I go on, perhaps a quick seafood supply chain 101 is in order:

A fisherman goes out and fishes with his license in his permitted vessel. (Permitting and quotas must go on ice for another day.)

When that vessel pulls in, an unloader weighs and takes what he believes he can sell. He gives the fisherman a receipt for this. “Fish is sold on consignment,” Jared explained. “We represent our boats on the market, which is why the trust between boat and unloader is so important.”

After the unloader, the next pair of hands belongs to the processor (sometimes the unloader doubles as processor).

Then comes the distributor (sometimes a triple play with unloader and processor). Then the wholesaler. Then the end user. In typical seafood supply chain, this is not the eater but rather a restaurant or a retailer who sells to the eater. (Going direct to consumer is a slightly different story, but one Red’s Best hopes to grow into.)

To-the-bones an entrepreneur, Jared started his first business smoking salmon on a dock in Alaska. (Andrea Pyerson did a terrific profile on him for Edible Boston.) “I could see everything from there, and I couldn’t stop asking questions. Who owns that truck? Where's that fish going? Who's making money here?

As the big picture came into focus, Jared set his sights on middle of the supply chain activities. “The unloader is the price setter – the first in line. That’s where I wanted to be.”

Red’s Best is a triple play: unloader, processor and distributor. They pull off this feat, at national scale, inside 5,000 square feet at No. 13 on the Boston Fish Pier. And that’s not even the part that impressed me most:

Having lived firsthand how paper-heavy, tedious, inconsistent and labor-intensive the accounting and legislative aspects of this part of the business are, Jared has been building a highly efficient, zero redundancy, semi-automated software solution.

Red’s Best impresses because of its one-two punch of ambitious, laudable vision and killer logistics.

“Our values are small, local boats and doing business that is good for ocean, people, and economics.”

Quite literally, Red’s Best takes everything off the boats. In an industry known for trawling the ocean with football-field sized nets, pulling out a few choice species and dumping the rest overboard – dead or dying – this is significant.

Everything,” Jared emphasized. “If it comes out of the ocean and you can eat it, we take it.”

Red’s Best is volume agnostic to boot. On their platform, a transaction is a transaction. “I’ve cut checks for $3.00,” Jared recalled as he walked me through his system.

The engine certainly seems to be purring. This spring, Red’s Best will move up-pier, swapping out its current 5,000 square feet for 13,000. They’re synched up with major wholesalers and institutional food service providers, and process up to 200 orders in a day… Imagine what they’ll do in their bigger space.

Before I left, I had to ask: “So who’s Red?”

“Red is Red,” Jared replied with a smile. “He’s every fisherman.”

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