Born on National Shrimp Day (May 10) in 2020, Biloxi Shrimp Co. celebrated its third anniversary as one of the largest direct-to-consumer e-commerce shrimp purveyors in the U.S. in just three short years. Consumers across the country now receive overnight packages of individually quick-frozen, Gulf shrimp from Biloxi Shrimp Co. every day.
It’s a classic American success story born out of adversity. When the pandemic hit, Mark Mavar and Jonathan McLendon were running Biloxi Freezing & Processing, Inc./M&M Shrimp, one of the largest wholesalers of wild-caught Gulf Shrimp in the U.S. The two young men, whose families had been in the shrimp business since 1926, were overwhelmed with a warehouse full of frozen shrimp that had nowhere to go. Known as the “coolest guys in town” because of their freezers, most of their long list of restaurant customers were closed or limiting service due to the pandemic.
They also had another looming problem. With shrimp season in local waters across the Gulf set to begin in May, as it does every year, they would need to make room for a new crop of shrimp getting ready to be harvested.
With no e-commerce infrastructure or website (yet) to sell shrimp direct to households, they put out a Facebook post that they’d be selling shrimp to the public out of their freezers in Biloxi. “Just bring a cooler and pull up to their Biloxi warehouse, we’ll fill it up and charge by the pound.” News spread like wildfire with likes and shares of that first post exceeding any other posts they had ever made. Soon, one or two days a week, cars with ice chests formed lines that wrapped around Biloxi neighborhoods.
“To say we were surprised is an understatement,” says McLendon. “One guy flew in on a private plane from Tennessee and filled five large ice chests,” added McLendon. “He flew back out with a plane full of shrimp.”
Word soon spread about the great restaurant quality and the “close to wholesale pricing,” and a direct sales business was born. It was time to scratch that e-commerce itch they had been entertaining for years. Pandemic consumer demand was at an all-time high as evidenced by their own Biloxi experiment, and everyone was facing near-empty meat aisles at the grocery.
“We figured it was now or never. We sat down with our marketing firm, The Focus Group in Biloxi, and told them if we were going to do this, we wanted to go big, be widely known –– like the Omaha Steaks of shrimp,” says Mavar. “So, we mapped out a plan. The Focus Group convinced us to develop a brand that connected to our Biloxi roots and set us up with an e-commerce website. The rest is history.”
Of course, it wasn’t quite that easy. The duo had to quickly figure out hundreds of operational details behind the scenes. It’s one thing to package and ship a perishable item on freezer trucks to freezer warehouses. But frozen shrimp bound for consumers’ doors presented new logistics challenges like new packaging, dry ice, insulation, shipping containers, shipping rates, consumer labeling and more. Confidence in the product and rising consumer demand for proteins kept them going. Everything was in place for success.
Now three years later, there are no signs of stopping. In spite of inflation, if a customer orders at least 10 lbs., they get free overnight shipping. They’ve added a Minnesota distribution center to get shipments out more efficiently. Each package comes with a gold-sealed welcome envelope including a letter from Mark and Jonathan, a thank-you card, a recipe card and a post card with a photo of an early 1900’s Biloxi lugger from the Mavar family collection. Recipes include family favorites like Mary’s Garlic Gulf Caught Shrimp.
“We all work as a team from the boats to the plate to satisfy our growing list of wild-caught Gulf shrimp lovers across the U.S.,” says McLendon
Biloxi was once known as the “Seafood Capital of the World,” a title earned by hardworking families who immigrated to the area from the coastal region of Yugoslavia known today as Croatia along with Austro-Hungarians, Bohemians (from what is now the Czech Republic), Polish, French-Canadians and more. The abundant Gulf was the perfect place to continue the seafood livelihoods they knew. The Mavar and the Suarez/McLendon families are part of this rich heritage –– the Mavars having immigrated from Austria/Hungary (now Croatia) and Suarez/McLendons from the Canary Islands.
Now, through Biloxi Shrimp Co., in addition to the Biloxi Freezing wholesale business, Mavar and McLendon are helping Biloxi live into that Seafood Capital title once again, one delivery and one delicious bite of Gulf shrimp at a time.
“It’s been a fast three years and a fun ride. We’ll be here shipping Gulf shrimp as long as U.S. consumers continue to appreciate the flavor and quality of wild-caught Gulf Shrimp,” says Mavar. “We don’t see that changing any time soon.”
>> To order and learn more, visit BiloxiShrimpCo.com.