Adding value to South Australia’s pipi industry

Tom Robinson, Goolwa PipiCo

Branding strategy wins 50% of national market

Not that long ago, pipis - or ‘cockles’ as they are known to South Australians - were considered a low-value bait, suitable only for putting on a hook to catch a whiting.

But at the turn of this century, a few forward-thinking fishers started exploring value-added food markets, and have grown to become the largest producer of pipis for both bait and consumption in Australia.

From the pristine waters off the Coorong National Park, Goolwa PipiCo supply the small, sweet and juicy shellfish to leading restaurants and home kitchens across Australia and the world.

“We had started experimenting with de-sanding the pipis to make them suitable for the food market” said Goolwa PipiCo Managing Director, Tom Robinson.

“We were encouraged by the progress we were making, selling primarily to the Asian communities in Sydney and Melbourne.

Innovations in packaging opening up new markets

“By 2010, over half of all our pipis were going to the food market, instead of the bait market.”

In 2014, innovations in packaging allowed Goolwa PipiCo to find new pathways for their catch through supermarket chains Woolworths and Costco.

“This new packaging extended the shellfish shelf life and put them in front of different consumers.

“Using this new packaging we also discovered we were able to find a market for the pipis in Europe,” said Tom.

In addition to venturing into the Asian and European markets, Goolwa PipiCo pipis have become an increasingly popular delicacy at home, too.

“Year on year there’s been an uptake in popularity here in Australia.”

Clever marketing increasing consumer demand

A clever marketing strategy, leveraging the product’s ‘challenger’ brand story, has seen it gain some high-profile fans.

“We’ve approached a number of chefs and asked them to use our product, and pipis have slowly become the ‘new shiny thing’ for many chefs and home cooks looking for something different to add to their repertoire.”

Sustainability underpins success

Underpinning the company’s success to date has been their commitment to running a sustainable operation.

Goolwa PipiCo’s manual harvest methods combined with quota management of the resource have minimal ecological impact. The company has worked with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for more than a decade to gain their coveted tick of approval for sustainability.

“The MSC Certification helps us meet consumer and corporate demand for products that are sustainable,” said Tom.

Goolwa PipiCo is also proud to commercially partner with the local indigenous Ngarrindjeri people who have been harvesting the resource for 19,000 years, to help protect and preserve the environment of the Coorong National Park.

Goolwa PipiCo is continuing to look at ways to grow productivity and value-add to their business into the future.

“There is still a percentage of the catch that is ideal for fishing bait,” said Tom.

“So, ironically, having transformed what was essentially a bait business into a food business, we’re in the process of re-looking at bait products to start adding value to that side of our business as well.

“It’s all coming full circle!”