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New England Lobster: From Cold Calls to Supplier of the Year

Adam Laite and Luke Holden with WFM team

Pictured L-R: Karen Christensen, Adam Laite, Luke Holden, Wesley Rose

By Merritt Carey, Maine Brand Ambassador and Community Relations Manager

It all started with hockey, and maybe a beer or two, at least according to Adam Laite, Director of Sales for Luke’s Seafood Co. Adam had just returned from Austin, Texas where along with Luke, he had accepted not one, but two awards on behalf of Luke’s Lobster Seafood Co. The road to that achievement, significant by any standard, was relatively short, but certainly steep.

Prior to working for Luke’s, Adam had been a regional sales director for a medical supply company and an avid hockey player – he hails from Canada – so it’s probably fair to say he can’t help himself when it comes to hockey. Luke also has a passion for the sport (along with his father and brothers), and serendipitously Luke and Adam were playing on a men’s hockey team together. They got to talking after hockey, over beers.  

This was early 2016, Luke’s was expanding and needed a sales guy on the seafood side for New England lobster meat that wasn’t used at the shacks.

“I came from a structured, large company, where the roles and sales channels were well defined,” Adam said. “When I got to Luke’s, I was pretty much handed the keys and told to build a sales program. I’m not going to lie, it was a little intimidating.”

He made a cold call to Whole Foods Market his second day on the job. And then another.  “I knew we could create value and a good partnership with them if we could get in the door,” Adam recalled. Adam got nowhere. “I started trying to be creative, I sent them hand written letters, I just kept at it.” The perseverance paid off, and he got their attention and in late August, 2016. Whole Foods Market representatives were at the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op ensuring the lobster they would be purchasing was caught and handled in a manner consistent with their high standards.   

From those initial sales of frozen tails, 32,000 pounds that first year, working collaboratively with fisherman, Adam built a remarkable program. “We were very transparent with Whole Foods Market at all times,” said Adam. They knew we were trying to build capacity and get more fishing wharfs eligible to sell to them. In 2018, Luke’s added Cranberry Isle Fishermen’s Co-op, Port Clyde and Friendship. That enabled Luke’s Seafood Co. to expand inventory and think about retail products, which were launched at the end of 2018. And all the while Whole Foods Market was getting positive feedback on all the products coming from Luke’s. “I think what’s been most satisfying about this partnership is the shared core values between Luke’s Seafood Co. and Whole Foods Market. The fact that we’re a certified B Corp, and that we take great care with where we source and how we source, it really fit well with the Whole Foods Market ethos.” In 2018, Luke’s supplied more than 300,000 pounds of lobster meat in a variety of products to Whole Foods Market.

Adam is purposeful and structured in his approach. “I like to be pretty organized in terms of my schedule, starting with the weekend before planning the week ahead and then each night adjusting my schedule if things are forced to change.” His days start with an hour and a half long work out (in the winter, Adam travels back to Canada each weekend to play professional hockey). From there, if he’s in the office, he spends a few hours each day prospecting, at least an hour or so in meetings and every day from 10-10:15 he has a cup of coffee with the logistics guys, where no business is discussed.

When Adam and Luke headed to Austin, they knew they were getting some sort of award, but they didn’t know what it was. As it turned out, they were called up for the “Purpose Driven” award, which they accepted and then sat back down. When all the awards were given out, the MC told the audience that there were two additional awards, surprise awards, to be given.  “Luke and I didn’t think too much about it, but then they started playing the video about us they had shot several months ago, and we were floored.” Luke’s was awarded Supplier of the Year for perishable products. As Luke noted in a company-wide email, “Adam and I were overwhelmed to accept this award on behalf of the team; it was an exceptionally special and emotionally charged moment.”   

Through all this, the two still play hockey together. When asked about Luke’s hockey skills, Adam replied, “Luke approaches hockey like he does his work, he’s all in,” and then he added tactfully, “Let’s just say he has more success with Luke’s than he does on the ice.”