Grocers Share Their Successful Seafood Strategies

Food retailers weigh in on maintaining sales momentum
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Headshot
New Seasons Market seafood counter
Daisy Berg, of New Seasons Market, is a proponent of maximizing "every part of the fish, not just the favorite cuts," with the aims of contributing to a more sustainable seafood industry and reducing waste.

We may be (mostly) over the pandemic at this point, but seafood still has a role to play in generating sales in various parts of the store.

Acknowledging that seafood sales have slowed since the height of the pandemic as consumers have returned to eating in restaurants, Daisy Berg, seafood program and category manager at Portland, Ore.-based New Seasons Market, nevertheless points out that “[f]rozen seafood has … maintained its popularity, as consumers have come to understand that it can often be just as good, if not better, than fresh seafood. Moreover, cost deflation has played a role in shaping our current seafood sales. Notably, the prices of wild salmon, crab and local fish have decreased, making these options more accessible to consumers. As people continue to prioritize their spending, we’ve employed promotions and value-focused initiatives to cater to customers seeking affordable options.”

One such recent program “is a reimagined lineup of easier-to-prepare or ready-to-cook meals,” adds Berg. “We understand that simplicity and convenience are crucial factors for our customers, so we have focused on providing new options, such as prepackaged filets, which reduce meal preparation hassle. Additionally, in response to the growing awareness of responsible and sustainable sourcing, we have placed a strong emphasis on offering seafood options that not only benefit our customers’ health, but also prioritize the health of the environment.”

“Customers are continuing to seek value to stretch dollars during their shop,” notes Nate Jewell, seafood category manager at Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Supermarkets. “Although we’ve seen seafood costs stabilize from inflationary impacts, we are still competing with other more budget-friendly proteins such as chicken and pork. Where we are seeing growth is in driving customer convenience and ease of access by offering ready-to-cook, prepackaged seafood options. And because today’s customers are shopping with value in mind, we’re also introducing and supporting new promotions to drive engagement and sales.”

To that end, Hannaford “is continuing to focus on developing variety around our grab-and-go seafood meal kits, which are a convenient option for customers who don’t want to wait to be served out of the case,” continues Jewell. “We provide a variety of options, including shrimp, salmon, and breaded haddock and cod.”

[Read more: "Hannaford, Gulf of Maine Research Institute Issue Seafood Guide"]

“I think our guests have appreciated the fact that we’ve been able to offer several items at lower retails than last year, with some of the seafood commodity markets returning to conditions more like prior to 2020,” says Jeff Earl, director of meat and seafood at The Fresh Market, based in Greensboro, N.C. “We’ve recently updated several offerings in both our appetizer category and our value-added category. Our new proprietary mini-crab cakes have seen early success in their recent launch.”

The Fresh Market's mini crab cakes
The Fresh Market's new proprietary mini crab cakes are a hit with customers.

Providing Inspiration

Asked what grocers can do to engage shoppers in regard to seafood, Berg replies: “It is crucial to recognize that customers are increasingly knowledgeable about sustainability and are prioritizing climate-friendly options. To cater to this demand, retailers should seek out third-party verified sustainable seafood options that undergo auditing, ensuring responsible sourcing.”

For its part, New Seasons recently introduced the Sustainable Choice program, featuring a new logo that identifies all of the seafood products in its stores that meet the company’s sustainability standard, backed by its longtime partner in this endeavor, Santa Cruz, Calif.-based nonprofit FishWise. New Seasons has also added a new local sourcing policy that will allow is to support smaller producers along the U.S. Pacific Coast, as well as updating its seafood signage.
Additionally, having the right associates on hand is pivotal.

“Investing in knowledgeable staff is also crucial to guide and inspire customers,” affirms Berg. “Retailers should ensure that their staff members are well informed about different fish species, their characteristics and proper preparation techniques. We hold monthly Seafood Product Knowledge classes, where we invite a single producer to talk us through their work/fishery. This expertise builds trust between staff and customers, enabling shoppers to make confident decisions when purchasing seafood.”

The Fresh Market, meanwhile, has embraced digital outreach as a way to connect with seafood consumers.

“We receive a lot of engagement through our livestream videos, where we can share recipes, preparation tips and more about our products with our guests,” notes Earl.

[Read more: "CMO Recounts The Fresh Market’s Live Shopping Journey at GroceryTech"]

Hannaford Brunswick
Hannaford Supermarkets offers ready-to-cook seafood items for greater customer convenience.

Overcoming the Shock of the New

One particular challenge is introducing salmon- and shrimp-loving shoppers to other, unfamiliar species. To do this, New Seasons Market “relies on a collaborative, multidimensional approach,” explains Berg. “Our seafood team works closely with our marketing experts to create targeted campaigns and materials. Through engaging and informative marketing materials, such as advertising, social media and online content, we can provide customers with key information about the unique characteristics and cooking methods associated with these lesser-known species.”

She continues: “Effective point-of-sale placement is another crucial aspect. By prominently displaying information about unfamiliar species at the seafood section in our stores, we capture the attention of customers and pique their curiosity. Eye-catching signage and shelf talkers can help highlight the availability and benefits of these new options.”

Earl takes a similar view of the matter. “Information and sampling – helping our guests to understand the value in a potentially new species for them is just as important as teaching preparation methods and letting them taste the product,” he observes. “Sometimes there’s a fear [of] the unknown, and making our guests comfortable and confident in their purchase is key.”

“As an industry, we need to do a better job educating customers on how simple cooking seafood really is,” asserts Jewell. “We find that customers are often intimidated by trying a new seafood item, because they don’t want to mess it up or serve it incorrectly. We’re focused on making sure our customers have the right information to inform their purchase, such as recipe ideas, preparation tips and details on the item’s flavor profile, texture and health attributes.”

Coming Soon

What does the near future hold in the seafood space?

“We expect the demand for frozen seafood to rise, driven by its convenience, extended shelf life and lower carbon footprint compared to some fresh seafood,” predicts Berg, who also anticipates that high-pressure processing (HPP) packaging will gain traction in the next few years, as it “can significantly prolong the freshness of seafood … for up to a month."

Jewell foresees “convenience to continue to drive the conversation around seafood, with increased customer demand for ready-to-cook options.”

Another ongoing issue is price sensitivity born of inflation.

As Jewell notes, “Customers are ... shifting their shopping habits to incorporate more sale items instead of routinely purchasing the same products each week.” 

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