HOW FISHWIFE USED QUIRKY ILLUSTRATED ART AND HONEST BRANDING TO BECOME THE BIGGEST CATCH IN THE TINNED FISH MARKET
The bold colorways and intricate illustrations of Fishwife’s distinct packaging designs are alluring enough to hook people while browsing the sterile tinned-fish isle. A brash and illustrious namesake makes people wonder. Finally, the sustainable mission and product quality reels them in.
Fishwife, a Los Angeles-based direct-to-consumer (DTC) company, puts a colorful spin on high-quality tinned fish while preserving ethics and sustainability with utter ease. For traceability, the company shares partnerships with small canneries in Spain, Washington State, and British Columbia and responsible fisheries and aquaculture farms across the globe. The company’s efforts help maintain the quality of its crowd-favorite products like smoked Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, and wild-caught smoked albacore tuna.
Although eating tinned fish has always been wildly popular in Portugal and Spain, after the canned tuna fad of the 1930s, people in the United States are still warming up to the delicacy anew. Fishwife’s mastery of changing the narrative of tinned fish from cheap and easy to healthy and elegant, yet accessible, has garnered interest from many corners of the internet. A few months after its launch in 2020, publications like the New York Times, Forbes, and Bon Appétit Magazine reached out to Fishwife for features. The brand has attracted over sixty thousand tinned fish lovers on social media.
Birthing a Company the World is Hungry For
One doesn’t simply wake up one day and decide to start a tinned-fish company, let alone the most popular tinned-fish brand in the United States. For Becca Millstein, the founder and CEO of Fishwife, inspiration came from her travels, and action came from quarantine.
“I discovered the elegance and beauty of tinned fish when I was living in Spain during college,” Millsetin said. “I fell in love with the simplicity of tinned sardines with a crusty baguette and a glass of wine.”
Millstein’s discovery would remain on the back burner for quite some time before evolving into Fishwife. After graduating from Brown University, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music brand partnerships at a talent agency.
Although she found her role in the music industry fascinating, it lost its dazzle after a few years. Millstein was on her own ventures with smaller private labels when the pandemic struck in 2020. Like many others, her career trajectory changed.
“The idea for the company came when me and my friend Caroline were quarantining together,” she said. “We were eating so much tinned fish during quarantine — because it’s shelf-stable, it’s healthy, it’s delicious. Caroline and I saw that many of our peers had had similar experiences with tinned seafood and realized that no domestic brand was speaking to our demographic. So we decided to make it happen.”
Millstein’s mission to make ethically sourced, premium and delicious tinned seafood a staple in every cupboard was obvious. Looking back on formulating her business, she said, “Everything was a challenge — and that was the fun part.” Aside from the marketing aspects of building a formalized company, everything was new to Millstein. From sourcing fish and building supply chains to establishing fulfillment partners, Millstein had much to learn, build, and sustain.
“As one of only a few full-time employees at Fishwife, my job involves every task that needs to be completed at an early-stage food CPG [consumer packaged goods] startup,” she said. “That includes supply chain, marketing, partnerships, collaborations, product development, fundraising, team management, and more.”
One thing remained constant through all the new responsibilities and struggles of launching a DTC brand — Millstein’s dedication to building an iconic yet dependable company.
How Becca Millstein Made Ethical Tinned Fish Cool
Combined with luxurious and tasty products, each component of Fishwife’s branding makes it a hot commodity and a brand with everlasting success. In a market consumed by bland corporation-owned tuna fish, a bold brand identity paired with eccentric packaging took Fishwife from the sea to the stars.
Although building a CPG startup was uncharted waters for Millstein, branding wasn’t. On Fishwife’s website, the humorous copywriting, themed illustrations, and cheery colors draw the eye. It is abundantly clear that Millstein is the branding mastermind hidden beneath the tedious business operations.
“Creating the name, the brand identity, and the visual of the brand, was really natural for me, and very easy, and very, very fun,” she said.
Upon some digging on the company’s story website page, consumers are introduced to Fishwife’s witty personality. The satirical namesake comes from the 16th-century term for women related to fishermen. According to Fishwife’s website, “The term gradually evolved into a gendered insult for women who were brash, foul-mouthed, and brassy. We relate.”
Fishwife’s visual branding pays homage to its quick-witted brand voice thanks to artist Danny Miller. He alchemizes Fishwife’s mission and brand personality into lively characters, primary color palettes, and quirky graphics that adorn the product packaging, websites, and social media pages.
“Miller is my closest creative collaborator,” she said. “He had never done any sort of brand or packaging work before, but his style just was so clearly aligned with what we were trying to communicate.”
Turning Branded Artwork into a Marketing Strategy
Fishwife launched in August 2020 with bold branding and aptitude to draw attention. No one, not even Millstein, could have predicted the considerable effect of attractive branding on Fishwife’s success. It became clear to Millstein that people were intrigued by a tinned-fish brand with an eye for illustrated artwork.
“We approach packaging by just creating the most beautiful work of art we can,” she said.
Seeing the commotion caused by its logo and visual branding, Fishwife continued making art a central marketing strategy. By sharing other artists’ work inspired by Fishwife, the brand has built up a niche community passionate about art and conservas.
“From day one, we were a very art-forward brand, so a lot of artists came to us to collaborate, and then we’ve just kept doing it, and it’s really, really fun,” she said. “And it’s fun to have a legion of artist customers because they’re just really fun advocates for the brand.”
With a community of art enthusiasts came a strategy that many DTC brands are adopting — designing brand merchandise that people will actually want to wear. Fishwife dropped its first round of merchandise in June 2021. The drop included a tee shirt and a tote bag that states, “Hot girls eat tinned fish,” with an illustration of a mermaid eating Fishwife canned seafood. In addition to consistent merchandise sell-outs, the phrase began to go viral on Instagram and TikTok, generating even more fans for Fishwife.
Fishwife continues to create merchandise for its fans. Some of its most recent additions include zippered pouches, baseball caps, and beanies. The brand even partnered with ceramicist Dominique Ostuni to produce a limited quantity of Fishwife-inspired ceramic mugs.
The Future Looks Fishy
How Fishwife prioritizes artistic collaboration alongside its brand identity makes it a wellspring of growth and promise. The U.S. canned seafood industry yielded over $2.7 billion in sales in 2022, and Fishwife is on track to become one of the industry’s most iconic brands. Fishwife holds the keys to a marketing tacklebox overflowing with admirable products, brand authenticity, community support, and artistry.