Fish farmers have long expressed interest in processing fish for local markets, but the marketplace situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the need for processing to expand market opportunities. Therefore, this study explores processing fish and other aquaculture products in shared-use commercial kitchen and butcher shop-type facilities in local communities for the growing local food systems. Shared-use commercial kitchens are facilities in communities, which are rented out to food producers, local food entrepreneurs, and caterers to prepare and process their food products for consumer markets. The aquaculture industry in the North Central Region (NCR) like Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio have no processing infrastructure for aquaculture and have traditionally relied on live ethnic fish markets. However, the live market is very limited, and relying on a single market outlet in this low margin industry is risky. Utilizing these local facilities for processing fish and product development would diversify marketing opportunities and have an impact on farm profitability. A diversified market also reduces market risks for fish farmers. As NCR aquaculture looks ahead to grow, there is a need to develop strategic alliances with local food systems to enable forward linkages with local foods actors and niche markets. This will be feasible if the industry can supply freshly processed products. This project proposes to do a comprehensive study of utilizing shared-use commercial kitchens and butcher-type shops for the feasibility of processing aquaculture products by fish farmers. The research question is: “What would it take to process fish and other aquaculture products in shared-use commercial kitchen and butcher shop-type facilities to supply local clients?” The focus of this study is Illinois, Indiana and Ohio but the outline followed and results will be applicable to other NCR states. The study fills an important knowledge gap in the local food system through discovery of factors that would incentivize the NCR aquaculture industry to supply local fish.
- Conduct an in-depth study of the business models for shared-use commercial kitchens and butcher shop-type facilities.
- Assess the feasibility for fish processing in shared-use commercial kitchens and butcher shop-type facilities and the supply of processed aquaculture products in the local food system.
- Address food safety issues associated with implementing Objective #2 including product safety and safety of direct selling operations.
- Develop economically viable business models and strategic pathways for fish farmers / aquaculture businesses to engage with local food actors.
- Disseminate research results identifying optimal products, safety indicators for products and direct sales, business models, and strategic pathways for engaging local food systems.
- A comprehensive report on business models for fish processing infrastructure in select NCR states.
- A comprehensive list of feasible fish processing facilities of shared-use commercial kitchens, butcher shop-type facilities and local food channels.
- Food safety guidelines from federal, state and local governments governing processing of fish, product safety, and safety of direct selling operations.
- Business models and strategic pathways / roadmap for fish farmers / aquaculture businesses interested in processing fish and for local food systems.
- A publication and outreach materials that outline the roadmap including operations and requirements of commercial kitchens and butcher shops.
- 2 short videos on the outreach materials.