When North Fork Smoked Fish Co. owner Phil Karlin was ready to expand distribution of his savory, locally made products, two things stood in the way — branding and labeling.
Karlin smokes and sells his fish dips, which he calls pâtés, as well as smoked salmon and blue fish filets and patties at his Greenport store. Almost all of his fish is locally sourced, except for the salmon, which is wild-raised, North Atlantic salmon imported from Norway.
“There’s no one else making what I’m making,” he said. “My stuff is all natural and I don’t use thickeners. That’s a challenge, but once people taste it, they buy it.”
While Karlin had always sold his smoked fish products — which are mostly packaged in simple plastic containers — locally and in a few Manhattan markets, he said he wanted to expand his reach in western Long Island and the city.
“I’ve been limited in my ability to distribute and a large part of that was bringing my labels up to a more conforming standard,” said Karlin, who launched his company in 2011. “I was making my own labels and basically they were just mailing labels, ingredients on the back and front and a round label on top with our logo.”
Karlin told a friend about his desire to broaden his business and that friend introduced him to the creative team of Cynthia and Geoffrey Wells of Southold. Ms. Wells is an illustrator and animator; her husband is a retired advertising art director and television IT specialist, as well as a writer and filmmaker.
“You can’t do illustration without design; they’re really hand-in-glove,” said Mr. Wells, who has collaborated with his wife on a variety of creative projects including their award-winning short animation film “Shadow of Doubt” and the creation of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association’s logo. “Cynthia’s skills and my skills interface with each other, so inevitably I’ll do something on something that she’s working on and vice versa. I’ll call on her to supply a small graphic or illustration that I can use in my videos. So we hand off to each other that way.”
The Wells were eager to work with Karlin on his new label, but the project proved to be a learning experience for them as well. While carrying out Karlin’s ideas, they discovered there was a lot more to designing a food label than just the creative aspects — like following specific federal Food and Drug Administration regulations.
“There are a lot of dos and don’ts that you can do on a food label,” Mr. Wells said. “[The FDA is] very specific, from the font size to the type of font. The challenge was to get all this information onto a thing that’s not much bigger than a postage stamp.”
The Wells’ took Karlin’s existing swordfish logo and created some new graphics around it. They also changed the label from a two-color form to a four-color form. The round label atop the eight-ounce pâté containers now sports the swordfish logo, the flavor, signage, website and ingredient information. Another side label offers nutritional information. The labels are also now made from plastic instead of paper to make handling and distribution easier.
Although he was initially nervous about contracting out his first branding project, Karlin had nothing but praise for the outcome.
“The Wells’ were extremely easy to deal with and really took care of me,”he said. “They know I’m a small business, just starting to take this big step, and they were very kind.”
Karlin is especially happy with the color-coding of the labels: pink for smoked salmon and green for smoked swordfish, which make it easier to pitch his product and much more shelf-friendly.
“Beautiful, beautiful work,” he said. “Now we have a barcode system for all of our different products, which a lot of these places want for inventory and just simplicity. And, of course, nutritional information.”
The first products Karlin plans to distribute are his smoked fish pâtés. He has already lined up meetings with several distributors who serve the five boroughs, western Long Island and the twin forks.
“The idea that a business that started in the corner of my father’s fish shop five years ago, with a small stainless-steel table top smoker, could go on to be a regional or even national brand would be awesome,” he said.