A well-stocked showstopper seafood department can create sweet music for the bottom line.
There is literally an ocean full of seafood options in the deep blue sea, but when it comes to offering an extended variety in the supermarket seafood case, most retailers barely make a ripple on the surface. That, say observers, is a mistake, since a well-stocked seafood department can lure in new shoppers and net existing customers into throwing a seafood protein option into their baskets.
According to the National Fisheries Institute, the top 10 seafood species most commonly eaten in the U.S. comprise about 90% of the seafood that Americans consume. “Statistically that suggests Americans only eat 10 types of fish,” says Gavin Gibbons, director of media relations for the McLean, Va.-based trade association. “There is no doubt there is room for expanding that palate, and that will translate into greater sales.”
Gibbons says aquaculture is doing just that by introducing new species to the lexicon—and dinner plate. “People didn’t know what tilapia was 10 years ago and now it is number four with a bullet in terms of most eaten species,” he says. “We’re now seeing the same thing with Pangasius, also called Swai.”
Retailers can do their part to increase seafood consumption by training their staff and offering recipes for new and unusual species.
“There are barriers to consumption, and consumers often say, ‘I don’t know how to cook it, so I will save my seafood meal for a restaurant,’” Gibbons says.
Trade associations are doing their part to educate retailers and consumers. “We are all trying to help the consumer feel more comfortable because there is such a wide variety of seafood,” says Joanne McNeely, seafood marketing coordinator, for Tampa, Fla.-based Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, which coordinates the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition (GSMC). “With seafood, every day you can have a totally different flavor and different product,” she says. “We need to help educate consumers about all the advantages of eating seafood. Even though the guidelines are twice a week, they can certainly be eating it more. That is what we are promoting at our www.eatgulfseafood.com website.”
The state of Louisiana, one of the members of the Coalition, has established its own website—www.buy.louisianaseafood.com. “It is built specifically for retailers and chefs,” says Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion Marketing Board, based in New Orleans. “There is a ton of information about all of the different resources available, and the recipes on the site are written for the trade and not the consumer, so they are larger portions,” he says.
Fried Clams on the Cutting-edge
A good recipe to promote might be fried clams. And a good place to source them from might be Pacific Seafood Group. Among the Clackamas, Ore.-based firm’s products are Alaska razor clams, which can only be harvested from mid-May through mid-August. Pacific Seafood sells them fresh and frozen during the season, and frozen in the off-season.
“Alaska razor clams are nothing like the fresh clams you get on the East Coast,” says Bob O’Bryant, director of marketing. “They are unique, weigh 5- to 7-ounces and are considered the best clam you can get. They have to be dug up by hand in the wild and we have the only razor clam plant in Alaska. Alaska razor clams are considered a delicacy in the Northwest, where many retailers slack them out and sell them in the fresh case,” he says. “For an independent looking for unique items to add to what they already sell in its seafood case, these clams would be a great addition.”
Retailers looking to source Alaska razor clams and other Alaskan specialties would be wise to visit www.alaskaseafood.org. “Our website provides the supplier and what form they will send something,” says Larry Andrews, retail marketing director in Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Seattle office.
Of course the most famous Alaskan fish is the salmon. Every seafood case stocks farm-raised Atlantic salmon, but retailers can set themselves apart by featuring Copper River King, Sockeye and Coho wild Alaska salmon and Prince William Sound Sockeye, Pink and Keta or Chum, says Beth Poole, executive director, Copper River/PWS (Prince William Sound) Marketing Association, based in Cordova, Alaska.
“Our fish are in the ocean eating a natural food source and coming back with all of the oils that are intrinsic to it,” Poole says. “In the Copper River they are going up a 300-mile river system so they pack extra oils that are really going to enhance the flavor. Unlike farm-raised salmon that live in a pen their entire life, we like to say all Alaska salmon are athletes. You are going to see a lot more in their flavor and texture and there is no added color, unlike farm-raised.”
McNeely makes a similar argument for domestically caught Gulf shrimp. “We explain to people that we have five varieties of shrimp that are from a natural environment taking in food and nutrients from the water, and they have a really nice full flavor,” she says.
GSMC member, the state of Alabama, is seeking to market oysters in addition to shrimp. “Our oyster reefs will reopen in October,” says Chris Blankenship, director, Marine Resources Division, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, based in Dauphin Island, Ala. “One of the advantages that oysters have over some other seafoods is that they are not quite as vulnerable to imports. Most people want good, U.S. oysters, preferably Gulf oysters. We’re trying to work with the retailers here to carry local oysters as consumers feel more comfortable with oysters closer to home,” he says.
Farther down the coast in Louisiana, alligator is the hot item.
“There’s a love affair right now with Louisiana because of reality TV, and because of that our products are really starting to blossom, especially alligator, due to the Swamp People phenomenon,” says Smith. “Swamp People has done for alligator what Deadliest Catch did for Alaskan seafood. The alligator industry has just exploded, and that opens the window so people can sell all of the other products we have that they might not be so familiar with, like crawfish, red snapper, black drum, yellow fin tuna, swordfish, mackerel, pompano—and that is just scratching the surface.”
Retailers can also set themselves apart by stocking more frozen and prepared items. Pacific Seafood Group is introducing a line of frozen oven-ready gluten-free battered and breaded products under its Starfish Brand. “The gluten-free segment is one of the fastest growing categories in the supermarket,” O’Bryant says. “We’re one of the few companies to do gluten-free breaded seafood, so it does enhance your offering. Our product is as good as or better than a wheat-battered product, so we don’t have to be purchased only by people who are gluten intolerant.”
There really is something fishy about the latest hot dogs in the meat case. Instead of meat AquaCuisine’s Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon Franks are made with genuine wild, natural and sustainable Alaska salmon. Naturally smoked, fully cooked, skinless and preservative- and gluten-free, each frank naturally provides 250 mg of essential omega-3 oils, contains 11 grams of protein and only 90 calories.
According to Mark Goforth, president of Eagle, Idaho-based AquaCuisine, the company philosophy is to demystify cooking with fish and to encourage consumers who are intimidated to experiment with simple yet delicious seafood solutions.
“We hope to introduce a whole new group of people to healthy food through a hot dog,” Goforth says. “We feel our salmon frank connects with the consumer both in-home and in-store with a meaningful value proposition. We are experiencing consumers spending more for our hot dog than they are for premium coffee, craft beer and Greek yogurt.”
AquaCuisine Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon Franks come in a 12-ounce package of six franks and are priced comparable to premium beef hot dogs, with a suggested retail of $6.99. They are shipped frozen, and can be merchandised either frozen or thawed in either the hot dog or seafood section. They can also be sold loose in the service seafood or meat case. Once thawed, they have a 21-day shelf life. For more information, visit www.aquacuisine.com or call 208-323-2782.