Not since the Oscar Meyer wienermobile has a vehicle caused so much excitement on America’s highways. Except this time, the four-wheeled phenomenon isn’t a hot dog; it’s a cool cat–or more specifically, a catfish.Unveiled last month by Southern Pride Catfish Co. and the Alabama Catfish Producers, the “Pride Ride” has the heart of a Volkswagen beetle but the unmistakable profile of a catfish. Complete with a dorsal fin, a smiling mouth, dark whiskers and a life-like tail, the Pride Ride is destined to get it’s share of stares, giggles and double takes as it travels the country promoting farm-raised, grain-fed catfish.Butch Wilson, president of the Alabama Catfish Producers, said he believes the car will be a valuable addition to the industry’s promotion efforts.”We just feel like it will promote fish and maybe reduce our oversupply of fish. We’re expecting great things out of it,” Wilson said.The Alabama Catfish Producers put up $35,000 in producer-funded checkoff money to help purchase the car and customize its exterior. Additional funding was provided by Southern Pride, which also will foot the bill for the operation and maintenance of the vehicle.Randy Rhodes, vice president of sales and marketing for Southern Pride, said he got the idea for the car a few years ago.”When I first saw the new Volkswagen going down the highway, I thought, now that could be catfish,” he said. A year and a half later, Rhodes was just about ready to tackle the project when the Sept. 11 attacks sent a shockwave through the U.S. economy. Sales of catfish slowed, and Rhodes soon realized Southern Pride would need a partner to make his vision a reality. The Alabama Catfish Producers signed on, and a Wisconsin company was hired to transform the bug into a catfish.Rhodes furnished the company photographs of actual catfish for the design. The result is so life-like even the seasoned catfish farmers who gathered for the unveiling were impressed. At the front, the designers fitted the car with a broad, smiling mouth and whiskers that flow over the hood and to either side of the fish’s headlight eyes. On the sides, spurs and fins protrude outward from a custom paint job that’s uncannily accurate–right down to the subtle black spots. A tall dorsal fin on the roof and sleek tail at the back provide the finishing touches.”We wanted the car to be humorous, but at the same time look real,” Rhodes said. “Some people don’t’ think catfish are beautiful, but we do.”The car has Southern Pride decals on the back and front, while the running boards were reserved for messages that promote the catfish industry as a whole. The vehicle also is equipped with a hitch for pulling a supply trailer, which is painted exactly like Southern Pride’s fleet of refrigerated tractor-trailer rigs.Founded in 1986 by Joe Glover Jr., Southern Pride Catfish today employs 880 people at plants in Greensboro and Demopolis. Each week, the company processes 2 million pounds of live catfish and markets 1 million pounds of catfish products. Rhodes said it’s only fitting that Southern Pride take the lead in promoting the catfish industry through projects like the Pride Ride.”As the largest catfish processor in the country, we felt we needed to be a leader in finding innovative ways of marketing our product,” he said. “This project also allows us to say thank you to the community and give farmers hope that we are going to do whatever it takes to keep this industry profitable.”For farmers like Wilson, the new promotion effort couldn’t come at a better time.”We are in a 10-year downturn of low prices,” Wilson said. “The last down cycle was in 1992. We are at an all-time low of 50 cents (per pound) right now, and part of that’s due to imports, oversupply and the economy. It’s just hard to make ends meet,” he added. “Right now, everybody’s losing about a nickel a pound. We just need to get it turned around as quick as we can, and to do that, we’ve got to get more fish moved.”Rhodes said Southern Pride plans to display the car at restaurant association meetings, trade shows and supermarkets throughout the country. He already has the vehicle booked at events this summer in Texas, Chicago and on the West Coast. Eventually, Southern Pride would like to equip the interior of the car with an audio-visual system that would project industry-related videos on the windows when the car is parked at events.Meanwhile, catfish producers got another bit of good news about their marketing efforts just days before the Pride Ride was unveiled. Wilson said the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would spend $6 million to purchase catfish products for school lunch programs this spring–giving the industry a much-needed boost.
Catfish Producers Hit The Road With New Promotional Vehicle