Hooked on seafood

Increased costs for beef, chicken and pork have consumers trawling the seafood aisle in search of protein.

Sell a consumer a fish and a retailer has a customer for a day. Teach that same consumer how to cook a fish—and a retailer may very well have a customer for life.

With traditionally higher price points than most other proteins, industry observers say some consumers shy away from making a seafood purchase simply because they do not know how to prepare it at home. Retailers that take the initiative in providing shoppers with recipes and other pertinent information are poised to increase their seafood sales—and seafood sales are certainly on the rise. According to the Nielsen Perishables Group, based in Chicago, total U.S. dollar sales per store per week are up 3.6% for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 27.

The seafood recipes do not have to be elaborate either. In fact, in most cases the simpler the recipe the better, say observers. A brush of oil and a sprinkle of salt on a salmon or cod fillet grilled or sautéed with some garlic and butter will bring out the best flavors.

Following these steps can take the fear out of seafood preparation, resulting in a successful meal for consumers and repeat sales for retailers.

Bob O’Bryant, marketing director for the Pacific Seafood Group, based in Clackamas, Ore., says successful seafood meals are what gets consumers coming back, as well as convincing shoppers to try new products they may be less comfortable with.

To do that, it is imperative that the seafood manager and staff are knowledgeable, says O’Bryant. “It all comes down to training; a well-trained and passionate seafood staff is contagious to the consumer. Promoting seafood by engaging with the customer always builds a following.”

Pacific Seafood helps train counter personnel via its Pacific Seafood University. Through this training program retailers can become educated on different species, marketing for different seasons, sustainability and quality.

“Giving the customer an opportunity to see the product easily prepared and then try it, hooks them. This also gives the seafood manager and the consumer time to engage in discussion about what the customer thinks of the product.”

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) also does its part to help retailers grow sales. Larry Andrews, retail marketing director for ASMI, whose U.S. marketing offices are based in Seattle, provides retailers with point-of-sale material, including posters, static clings and recipes booklets. It creates banner ads promoting particular Alaska species as well as the retail chain.

ASMI has also recently released its “Seafood to Celebrate” promotional materials designed to help retailers highlight the potential seafood—specifically Alaska seafood—offers when consumers entertain. “The centerpiece of the ‘Seafood to Celebrate’ collection is the recipe booklet,” says Andrews. “From pistachio-covered Alaska halibut to Alaska sole sliders, this collection of 12 new recipes offers accessible healthy meals. We also created a 22-inch by 28-inch poster and an on-pack that features Alaska sockeye salmon bites.”

Potent promotions
The emphasis placed by the government on healthy eating plays into seafood’s favor as well. Observers say retailers’ point-of-sale materials and promotions should focus on seafood’s many health benefits.

One tactic of doing this is with portion promotions, which Andrews has seen gain popularity. “Rather than advertising a per-pound price more retailers are selling seafood in individual 5- or 6-ounce portions,” he says. “This strategy aids consumers in meal planning and also increases the approachability of many of the higher priced species of seafood.”

Seasonal promotions are another way retailers can boost seafood sales. One of the best opportunities revolves around the 40-day Lent period. Observers say many processors and distributors put a great deal of effort into promoting during this time period. While there are fewer wild seasons open at this time farmed fish is a great value and alternative.

“Products from Pacific Seafood’s steelhead farm in Washington State on the Columbia river are very promotable,” says O’Bryant. “Not only is the quality superb, it is a product of the U.S. unlike most farmed products.” One that Pacific Seafood is heavily promoting from its gourmet smoked seafood division, Salmolux, is its Sea Passion Steelhead, in both a hot and cold smoked offering.

Not surprisingly, the Louisiana Seafood Promotions Marketing Board (LSPMB) views Lent as an important time of year. “Lent is huge for us,” says Ewell Smith, executive director for the LSPMB, based in New Orleans. “It is probably one of the strongest drivers of seafood and a time during the year when we have the most variety available.”

The time period is so strong that last year the LSPMB created a fitness challenge surrounding Lent. People finish with Mardi Gras and begin thinking about getting healthy, says Smith, adding that they are looking to do something similar this year.

While that promotion was local to Louisiana, Smith says there is opportunity for retailers across the country to promote Louisiana seafood. “The Louisiana brand is hot right now,” he says. “With all of the different reality shows going on, there is a lot of interest in our state. If I were a retailer I’d ask ‘what can I do to differentiate myself in my market?’ Having a Mardi Gras themed event may be one way to do that and offer authentic product from Louisiana waters.”

The LSPMB supports retailers with extensive point-of-sale materials and educational materials including a spiral bound brochure that features all the different species indigenous to Louisiana. They also provide fish mongers with a large back-of-room poster with Louisiana seafood species information.

The Super Bowl is another “special” event that retailers can rally around to promote seafood. In fact, many observers say Super Bowl Sunday has become the biggest single shrimp sales day of the year. Shrimp’s popularity on Super Bowl day provides retailers an opportunity to piggyback other seafood items such as crab, oysters, smoked seafood and breaded fish products.

O’Bryant says the promotional programs and advertising that goes on during Lent, as well as other holidays, could possibly be used as a model for slower months during the year. People are always looking for new ideas for special events,” he says.  

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