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Patent Makes N.C. Crab Idea a Shure Thing

 
Chefs are testing the many possible ways to form, cook and plate the newly patented Shure Foods cold-structured crabmeat. Photo courtesy of Shure Foods.  

Blue crab, the succulent seafood magnet for North Carolina natives and vacationers alike, now has a patented offshoot.

Shure Foods, a company started in his parents’ Roanoke Island basement in 2006 by Gabe Dough, has received a patent for its “cold-structured crabmeat.” That’s the term Shure Foods uses for its uncooked, re-formed take on the difficult-to-harvest delicacy.

Dough is relieved to finally have the patent in hand. It applies to Shure Foods’ process involving both Atlantic and Pacific crab, including blue crabs, blue swimming crabs and Japanese blue crabs.

Dough’s patent adds a federal stamp of approval to a $30,000 Company Inception Loan the North Carolina Biotechnology Center provided to Shure Foods in 2009 to help convert Dough’s idea into commercial reality.

Potential to change the industry

“We now have the potential to change the industry by providing a new niche and increased yields in addition to the established market for picked, or lump, crabmeat” says Dough, who grew up on Roanoke Island and comes from a long line of Outer Bankers that dates back to the 1700s. He says the crab market in the United States alone is greater than $1 billion a year. More than half of that involves imported crab.

Shure Foods founder Gabe Dough

 “Our cold-structured crabmeat can be viewed as a new material, because raw crabmeat has not previously been a commercially viable product,” explains Dough. He says raw crabmeat is delicate, so the crabs are traditionally cooked intact soon after they’re caught and the meat is then removed by hand and, most often, canned. 

Shure Foods’ process converts raw crab into a meat product that changes the physical characteristics typical of crab, he says, enabling textures and structure comparable to fish, scallops, shrimp and other seafood while retaining the highly prized flavor of the crab. 

Increases yield and efficiency

Extracting the meat while it’s raw increases processing efficiency, improves yields and reduces waste. The company plans to continue developing a commercial-scale meat-removal process. Then, reprocessing the meat in Shure Foods’ patented system, says Dough, the company will be able to develop crab products at lower cost and higher profit margins than possible in either domestic or foreign crabmeat picking operations. 

“This product will give chefs the rare ability to work with crabmeat starting with an uncooked product to create not only traditional crab-based cuisine but also seafood cuisine that has not usually been suited for crab,” he says. He expects to see it in everything from pizza toppings to breaded fried medallions. It even has the potential to be made into true crab surimi – the imitation crab sticks made from processed fish, usually Pollock, popular at many Asian restaurants.

The patent also opens the door to potential investors and industry participants, he says. He has already met privately with major seafood distributors, chefs and others interested in marketing and/or using Shure Foods products, but now that the patent is secure, he hopes to nail down arrangements with investors and/or collaborators.

Patent opens door to options

“We had a lot of interest from the industry,” he says. “But the patent process dragged out, so we weren’t in a position to move forward. Now we have the patent. Now we’re looking at options, including partnering with a larger company to develop the product and raising investment capital to direct work in-house or fund sponsored research at a lab.”

Dough says besides the NCBiotech business loan and consulting support, he’s received expert help from many North Carolina resources. They include Marty Hackney, director of the Entrepreneurial Initiative at East Carolina University, the campus where Dough earned his MBA after starting his business. Hackney, a member of the NCBiotech Eastern Office Advisory Committee, initially put Dough in contact with NCBiotech.

Dough also cited two law firms that helped him secure the patent. The Atlanta-based global law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton handled the patent for most of the Shure Foods process. “They deserve a lot of credit for sticking with me on the patent,” he says. “As a big firm they have a good reputation for helping small companies. And when things got tough in the end they, wisely, directed me to Ben Schroeder, a former Kilpatrick Townsend attorney, now of Leak & Schroeder. Leak & Schroeder is a new Winston-Salem-based partnership that many small companies should look to for first-class patent counsel. They’re brilliant guys who really helped us win the day.”

Dough is also working with David Green, Ph.D., professor and extension specialist, and colleagues at North Carolina State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology. Dough says Shure Foods also gets technical support from the popular Beaufort County seafood firm, Washington Crab and Oyster Co.

“We have a great community around this state for helping people start a business,” says Dough. “That deserves a lot of credit.”

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