Young's is giving fish chickenability' and developing into a dynamic brand. Karen Dempsey hooks the brand's captain How do you make people think differently about fish? Why not try using a rubber singing fish as bait, cast your line into grocery trade waters and then reel in amazed and amused punters. Well, this is the catchy strategy Jim Cane masterminded when he set about relaunching the Young's brand. Dull mail shots don't elicit enthusiastic replies but Cane was deluged with calls when his prey received their Young's-customised boxes of Billy Bass just at the time when The Sun was fuelling the national craze for the singing fish. But there's more to the Young's relaunch than a quirky stunt. Since joining the merged Young's Bluecrest company as group commercial director in April last year, Cane, 48, has fished out a £5m marketing budget and is going full steam ahead with new pack designs, advertising and npd. The merged company is worth £320m (a combination of own label and branded chilled and frozen seafood products) but it is the £125m Young's brand that Cane wants to develop into a £150m brand by the end of the year. And his long term vision is "not to build a great frozen food brand. We're looking to build a great food brand whatever the temperature". He says: "The fish market has tended to be fish people talking about fish. But I've always been a marketeer and I get a buzz about new products and opportunities. This is a classic situation where a number of opportunities have come together: a new business, an underdeveloped brand and an underdeveloped market. "Young's has been quite an invisible brand really. It's not that well known and it hasn't done much, but when you delve into into it, it's got very positive values in terms of consumer attributes and it's absolutely synonymous with fish." He sums up his growth strategy for fish as "chickenability". He says: "Fish is the perfect protein as it's low fat and has none of the negatives that red meat's got and more benefits than chicken. But no manufacturer has brought fish up to date and made it accessible. It's got some negatives as people like fish but don't know what to do with it and they don't like the skin and bones. "So what we're doing is introducing chickenability to it ­ making it accessible in all its forms, doing all the work for you and taking all the nasties away." What has resulted is a massive npd programme that spans both north and south poles on the price and positioning spectrum. Cane says that one strand of npd is the heritage range, the products that people would expect from a seafood company ­ but with the reassurance of the Young's brand. So we've seen the launch of chilled mussels and oysters, boned and prepared trout, jumbo prawns and calamari. But then comes the wave of launches into the convenience and ready meal sector that brings fish into completely new categories. Seafood Risotto and Salmon and Pasta are tasty and convenient enough to rival anything in the Bird's Eye Enjoy! freezer. Fish & Sauce won last year's Sial d'Or award for Best Seafood Product in the World'. And, while competition prevents Cane from revealing what's next out of the Young's npd cabinet, we can expect more microwaveable convenience products as well as fish's first appearance in ethnic ready meals. "We're not having to search around for ideas, the ideas are all there. We've got dozens of things we want to do over the next couple of years and it's filling gaps to an extent.The real issue is how quickly we can do them and we're doing them as quickly as we can." Keeping up with Cane would leave younger marketing executives gasping for breath. There's no fishing for words or stumbling for the right conversational rod. And he's not shackled by the hackneyed marketing jargon that functions as water-wings for tentative fresh-faced marketeers. With Cane, what you see is what you get. As a strapline for the relaunch advertising campaign Cane even suggested using Young's ­ it does what it says on the fin' (though the final one that was used was Young's ­ make fish the dish of the day'). Cane's enthusiasm manifests itself not only in the pace of his speech but in the number of "great's" and "fantastic's" that punctuate it. Hey, this guy even gets enthusiastic about Grimsby! Originally from Leeds, he started his career at the Co- op in Manchester before moving to Rowntree in York where he honed his marketing skills. He recalls that "it was a great place, but it felt like it was one-paced. It was almost too classical." When Grimsby-based Ross Foods called him for interview he initially thought there was no way he'd ever move from York to Grimsby. But he did, planning on staying there for a couple of years ­ and 19 years later he's still living there. He says: "There was a real buzz about the place [at Ross], a lot of excitement, and loads of things going on. This was in the early 1980s when the frozen food market had just started to take off. It was a tiny market with very few products in it and it was all about fish fingers, beefburgers and peas. "Being in the middle of it [as marketing director] in the 80s was great. We used to launch 200 products a year so that's four a week. You used to get to thinking if you got to Thursday and you hadn't got two or three out you knew you were getting behind." He then became md of the frozen food business during the 1990s after United Biscuits bought Ross in 1988, then he left after UB sold the frozen division to Heinz. For Cane in his current role it's like the 80s all over again with all that original buzz. but without the power suit and Filofax ­ or the 200 products a year. But with the winds of Young's Bluecrest behind him ­ "it's the first time I've been out of a big corporate environment" ­ he's got the enthusiasm of a sailor out on his first voyage but with the experience of knowing how to steer the vessel. Since the pre-Christmas relaunch he reports an increase of nearly 20% in volume sales of branded product. And, despite the impact of foot and mouth disease which pushed sales upwards at the start of the crisis, he says that fish sales are definitely more buoyant. "There's going to be a lot of good news here, there's going to be a lot of excitement, and people are just getting on and changing things. That's what I like ­ I like change. I wouldn't be happy working in a market where we were tinkering on the edges and where there wasn't something to do ­ I'm high octane." That's fine for the energetic Mr Cane but not so fine for those with more lethargy than energy. He admits: "I'm demanding and I'm hard driving. I guess because I'm so enthusiastic about this I like to surround myself with like minded people. So I'm probably a bit short with people who have lower energy levels than I have." In other words, ditherers and loafers need not apply. "I brought a phrase into the business called think and go', says Cane. "You need to stand back from things, you need to have a considered approach, and you need to think about it. So you do need to do analysis, you do need to do research {in fact the company has invested £500,000 on data], and you need to understand why you're doing things. But once you've done that you just go." It's not going to be plain sailing for Young's. But as many of the frozen brands Cane launched in the 80s are still around ­ including Linda McCartney and San Marco pizza ­ we can anticipate that Captain Cane will keep the Young's ship on course. He says: "The great danger I've found with some food businesses is you do the analysis, then you do a piece of research, then you go round it again and you get analysis paralysis. People are frightened to do things because they want to get to the nth degree of research and they want to know that something is completely risk free. Well there are very few things you can do in food marketing that are risk free and I'm someone that says let's be 90% certain that it's right and then let's go. "You can bet your life that if you've got four or five people sitting round a table and they all think it's a good idea then it is probably a good idea and so you should do it. If it works, great, and if it doesn't work then do something else ­ it's not the end of the world." {{FEAT. PROFILE }}