When he played in the late 80s and early 90s, Vincent Edward "Bo" Jackson surprised plenty of baseball pitchers with his bat as a power-hitting leftfielder and football team defenses with his speed as a running back. Now he’s hoping to surprise retailers and restaurant chefs around the country with the taste and quality of his seafood sliders.
Starting in October, the owner of VEJ Holdings, a Naperville, Illinois-based food distribution company, will begin a tour of 15 US cities where, joined by Miami, Florida-area-based seafood processor and importer Bonamar, he’ll ambush chefs as a way of promoting his "Signature Sideliners" set of products. He’ll be equipped with “Bo Jackson’s Legendary Playbook,” which includes a series of recipes dedicated to seafood called “Bo’s Big Catch”, and a film crew, which will make it possible to replay each encounter, said Kristie Sams, VEJ's executive vice president.
Initially each episode will appear on the internet, but the companies are also talking to various television outlets, Alex Cook, Bonamar’s senior VP of sales, told Undercurrent News.
The strategy is just the latest promotional collaboration in a 15-month partnership between Jackson’s company and Bonamar, which provides VEJ with the shrimp, ahi tuna and salmon sliders he sells. Based on the early success of the mini fish burgers, the two companies are looking to launch at least five new value-added seafood products under the Signature Sideliners brand, Cook said.
In addition to the ambush promotion, VEJ is planning more than 50 regional events in 2019 to promote its products and a multi-state chef seafood cooking competition, Sams said.
Bonamar has been working to beef up its portfolio of value-added seafood products for at least the past 18 months and additionally is promoting its Sebastian brand, which includes seafood-stuffed sea bites, crabcakes and dips to name a few. The company can now take advantage of two recent acquisitions to supply the raw materials. International Pacific Seafood, acquired in March, is a major West Coast-based supplier of fish, while International Marketing Specialists, acquired Aug. 3, is a major New England-based importer of shrimp, he said.
It can also make use of its new space. Bonamar is weeks away from fully opening up its 30,000 square foot plant after spending millions to acquire the space two years ago and renovate it, the Bonamar sales VP told Undercurrent. In addition to lots of new cold storage and freezer space, the new plant, in Medley, Florida, includes state-of-the-art processing equipment.
Does Bo know seafood?
Undercurrent caught up with Jackson in a telephone interview last week, months ahead of the ambush tour, which is expected to last through all of 2019. He described how he picked Bonamar to partner with in large part because it was a fully integrated operation, able to provide the raw materials, formulation, packaging and marketing for several of the value-added seafood products.
Seafood now makes up roughly 25% of the products VEJ sells, Jackson told Undercurrent. Relying on other suppliers, Bo's company also provides salmon, hamburger, steak, pork, pasta, canned vegetables and fruits, based on VEJ’s website.
Part of the charm of Bo Jackson’s name on food products is that it is well-remembered from his days as a dual sports star, especially valuable in family restaurants and sports grills. It’s extremely rare that professional athletes are able to play two sports simultaneously and be an all-star in both. Jackson was seemingly unstoppable as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders, while also acting as a slugging outfielder for the Kansas City Royals roughly from 1986 until 1990.
Jackson stepped away from football after suffering a hip injury during the 1990 season, but he continued to play baseball a few years longer for the Chicago White Sox and California Angels.
Another part of Jackson’s celebrity was the popularity of the “Bo knows …” television commercials he did for Nike, in which the joke was that Bo could do anything he tried. In one advertisement Jackson shows that he can also play tennis, lift weights and race a bicycle, among other things, before he fails horribly on an electric guitar and famous blues guitarist Bo Diddley says, "Bo, You don't know Diddley."
Bonamar is counting now on Bo to know seafood, as it prepares to step up its marketing effort around their products.