3 Fish Inc.

Value-added seafood products for markets in the Southeast
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

3 Fish Inc. (3FI) has been processing and distributing seafood since 1997. Formerly known as Fresher than Fresh Seafood, the family-owned and –operated business has built a brand known for fresh taste, safe practices and innovative food products. Ronnie Wrenn, president of 3FI, works alongside his son, Holt, who has grown up in the family business and is now highly involved in managing day to day operations.

Ronnie and Holt employ approximately 75 people at the company’s single location in Gastonia, N.C. “We serve as a full line seafood processor and distributor, processing raw seafood products sourced locally and globally, but our real niche is creating exceptionally high quality super fresh tasting and very easy to prepare products,” Ronnie elaborates. “We start with a whole fish, cut it into portions and sell it to grocery stores, restaurants and other clients with markets in the Mid-Atlantic States, southeast and across the country through the southwest.”

Ronnie explains that the company’s niche in the business evolved from creating unique added value products that are often custom made for specific clientele. “Our baseline starts with everything we make must have a clean fresh taste and is quick and easy to prepare, never losing sight of surpassing our customers’ expectations,” he says.

Keeping it fresh

Ronnie and his team follow a straightforward formula for customer satisfaction. 3FI’s products have to be convenient, easy to eat, with high quality taste. “We don’t want our products to take a lot of time prepare, but we want them to taste like they did,” Ronnie explains.

One of the most important components of the process is keeping the fish tasting fresh even though the end product may be a frozen entrée. Ronnie explored new, high-tech options for packaging. Taking inspiration from processes in Europe and Japan, he and his team have established a state-of-the-art facility where the company prepares, packages and freezes value-added seafood products.

“We use liquid nitrogen to chill and freeze all the products we process, which is key to consistently maintaining our level of freshness,” Ronnie explains. “Maintaining consistent fresh quality throughout a retail chain is a challenging process. Retail shoppers have been conditioned that their best chance of acquiring the freshest fish is exclusively from the service ice counter. In the past ice was really all there was, but not today. Today we have incredibly advanced sterile packaging, which allows us to actually modify the atmosphere inside, dramatically reducing the growth of spoilage bacteria and increasing the freshness three times longer than service ice counter fish.”

Ronnie explains that the average consumer has no idea 3FI’s type of packaging technology exist. “The big retailers are somewhat reluctant to embrace the technology and make a big dramatic change in the way they sell fresh seafood, in part because they currently have a huge investment in full-service ice counters, backed by consumer studies preferring ice counters,” he continues. “The average consumer doesn’t know that the new packaging techniques will allow a better experience with consistency and convenience; ice counters are the only thing they know. Consumer education is the key to breaking old traditions in retailing. It will come to life one day, when it does the entire overall fresh seafood experience will improve.”

Product development

3FI offers products under the company’s labels, but most production is for private label customers. The team works closely with clients, whether retail buyers or private brands, to provide product that meets consumer needs.

“People are scared of preparing fish,” Ronnie says. “They don’t want to buy a $25 piece of sea bass and worry they don’t know how and don’t have the time to prepare it. We make sea bass cakes that are heat and serve, and retail for $4.99.”

Ronnie goes on to note that 3FI has two full-time professionally trained chefs who do independent R&D, develop customer request and supervise the production of the company’s added value line. “We have a strong research and design process, taking feedback from sales people and customers,” he details.

With a strong product development team, 3FI is continually evolving, reinventing and trying to improve everything the team makes. “We try to find what people like and make it more convenient,” Ronnie continues, “Whether it’s our Starboard Steamer individual meals, crab, lobster or salmon cakes stuffed or marinated or things like the new sea bass cakes, which will be introduced into the market over the coming months. We are always reinventing ourselves.”

The company is also constantly upgrading processing and packaging technology. “We can stabilize our products to a specific point and can guarantee with a reasonable amount that the consumer will have a very good experience,” he says. “All of our expiration dates are set to a level that doesn’t approach any significant loss of taste and quality. The saying, ‘Give people something good and they will come back for more,’ has never been more true than with seafood. But give them something bad the may not come back at all is even more true. You don’t get many chances selling bad or even marginal fish. It’s in the DNA of everyone at 3FI that we don’t do anything marginal. If it doesn’t meet our standard it will not leave our plant.”

Fish comes in fresh and leaves fresh, through a distinct process that helps keep flavor while eliminating risk to consumers. Ronnie and his team are dedicated to keeping up a strong reputation in the industry that involves the company’s processes and people. 3 Fish Inc. is growing and in the coming years, Ronnie and his team are looking forward to new projects and initiatives that will help better serve the southern United States with fresh, value-added seafood.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Wells Fargo Bank