Recently, Future of Fish sat down with Meyling Tang, Co-Founder of Tres Peces Valparaiso, to discuss how their responsible seafood restaurant concept adapted to challenges caused by COVID-19 in Chile.
The team behind Tres Peces are pioneers in the sustainable seafood industry in Chile. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic which shuttered many restaurants in Valparaiso, Tres Pesces has grown tremendously in popularity, mostly due to “word of mouth” from existing customers who enjoy their fresh products and meaningful storytelling about the fishers and organizations who are procuring sustainable seafood.
Meyling and her partner Chef Paula Baez became true innovators in order to adapt to the difficult business environment presented by the pandemic. Restaurants were closed by law from March to October 2020, which forced them to move physical locations and adapt their products to accommodate customer preference for delivery options. By focusing their efforts on the development of a lunchtime delivery system, they were able to serve customers in Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, and Curauma.
The success of their business is tied to a core belief that customers want sustainable seafood at an affordable price. To keep prices affordable during the pandemic coupled with a strong economic crisis, Tres Peces lowered their prices and invested in their own vehicles to keep overhead costs down instead of working with paid delivery services. They do not maintain a formal website, but rather rely on the supporters they have accumulated on Instagram (@trespecesvalparaiso) with more than 37,000 followers, Facebook (@trespecesvalparaiso), Twitter (@trespecescl), and WhatsApp Business to do marketing and more recently, Tik Tok (@trespecesvalparaiso).
After several extremely difficult months during the height of the pandemic that included painful staff layoffs, Tres Peces was able to secure a loan from BancoEstado (FOGAPE) which provided the necessary funds to improve their delivery process, packaging, and payments to the artisanal fishermen that were supplying their products.
During this period, Tres Peces also listened to their loyal customers to develop a weekly menu with 8 different prepared dishes similar to the experience from their restaurant. Some of their dishes are assembled so that they can be reheated immediately without being overcooked. For example, their Chupe de Cangrejo broth and seafood ingredients sourced from fisherman Germán Martinez from San Antonio are vacuum-sealed in a clay pot made by artisans from Pomaire. This design already considers that people finish cooking the meal at home with the added benefits of supporting local communities and procuring healthy, homemade food for their family.
In addition to their “ready to heat” prepared dishes, Tres Peces also expanded to include new frozen products. They worked closely with fishers to adapt their packaging to these formats and ensure that the customer receives the highest quality, freshest product possible. In some cases, fishers started filleting their own fish and were able to start selling directly to consumers and other local restaurants with the help of the Tres Peces team. By empowering the local fishing communities they source from to improve their products and distribution, their social impact has grown exponentially.
Tres Peces has established relationships with notable NGOs like Fundación Cocinamar, Environmental Defense Fund and World Wildlife Fund. They are actively supporting other entrepreneurs hoping to replicate their responsible sourcing model and believe that there needs to be a broader campaign in Chile educating consumers about the different seasons and products local to each area.
Though their products are more expensive than a customer might pay in the fishing communities they are always cheaper than what the supermarket charges. The transparency in their pricing structure is an innovative way to build trust between the producers and the consumers. Everyone is welcome to visit the fishermen’s page and see that Tres Peces charges more for procuring the responsible seafood plus delivery service. Many chefs and restaurant owners ask for information about where they can buy the same seafood, which is available at Fundacion Cocinamar website (www.cocinamar.cl/red).
Tres Peces has always believed that fishers are part of the path forward for sustainability. They set up training and establish formal conditions to promote best business practices. Positive signs of growth in the commercialization flows of responsible fishing are everywhere and Tres Peces chooses to share the contact details of the artisanal fishing organizations with whom they work so that other platforms can do business with them.
“Trust in our brand is essential” explains Meyling, “It has been a tough year, but we were surprised by how some fishermen have reacted, for example, those who work like us. They had an innovative spirit. They took a risk.”
In the end, it is the consumers who are driving demand for responsible seafood products. More artisanal fishing organizations are needed in Chile to support fishers who can share resources and capital to market their products together. Coordinated sustainable seafood efforts, such as the Galicia Model in Spain, serve as a good example for the Tres Peces team who are focused on constant improvement and innovation in their business and the artisanal fishing organizations they work with. As an example of continued iteration, in 2021 Tres Peces opened a fish store in Valparaíso and focused on developing a canned crab soup called “bisque de jaibas”, using 100 percent of the crabs purchased from German Martinez, in a project supported by CORFO.
Today, customers can visit the Tres Peces restaurant location for takeaway orders of prepared seafood dishes like fish calugas and fish sandwiches. They work with another local business that sells drinks and so far, this business model is also working successfully. Sourcing responsible seafood for their restaurant and delivery service has proven to be the key to their continued success. Meyling says they are very grateful for the work with the fishermen and the trust generated in these years with the customers of Tres Peces, “which allows us to continue working with more than 40 fishing organizations, including Juan Fernandez Island”.
Published Oct 25, 2021