Acme scores Wilmington’s biggest fish story
With Americans constantly encouraged to eat more fish, a New York-based company is capitalizing with a healthy expansion at its Wilmington plant, which opened in February 2015. Acme Smoked Fish is adding 40 employees to its current staff of 165 as it adds a sixth packaging line and a second shift at the company’s largest U.S. smoked-fish manufacturing plant, says Felipe Espinosa, Acme’s director of manufacturing. He expects an additional 50 people to join the company in the next few years as demand grows for smoked salmon and other seafood, with production expanding from 5.8 million pounds annually to more than 7 million.
“Fish consumption is increasing because people are looking for healthier protein,” says Ellen Lee-Allen, senior marketing manager. “What we [manufacture] is smoked salmon and smoked fish, and it is becoming more popular and more accepted.”
Acme imports its fish from Chile through the Port of Wilmington, an asset that made the city a logical expansion site. “We bring some fresh Atlantic salmon through the Miami airport and it is trucked here,” Espinosa says. “But all of the frozen stuff comes through the Port of Wilmington. We are bringing an average of three containers a week,” referring to vessels that typically average 50,000 pounds.
Espinosa, who moved from Chile in 2017, praises Wilmington’s road network and quality of life. The company found the area “much more attractive” than 10 other sites under consideration, he says.
About $1 million in incentives provided by the state and Pender County helped tip the relocation decision, Espinosa adds. The plant, the first tenant at Pender Commerce Park, is about 10 miles north of downtown Wilmington and near the Cape Fear River.
Russian immigrant Harry Brownstein started Acme Smoked Fish in Brooklyn in 1906. A fourth generation of Brownstein’s family now runs and owns the privately held company, which started distributing its products through supermarkets in 1968 and helped pioneer the use of vacuum-packed technology in the 1970s. Its brands include Blue Hill Bay, Ruby Bay and Great American Smoked Fish.
With its Brooklyn plant maxed out, Acme invested $38 million in the 100,000-square-foot Wilmington plant, where fish are defrosted, cured with salt and then put into stainless-steel chambers at a 70-degree temperature, a process called “cold smoking.” At Acme’s New York facility, some fish are smoked at more than 130 degrees, giving them a smokier flavor.
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