Supermarket FRESH FOOD Business: Simplifying salmon

Freshness and variety in a supermarket seafood department are essential to winning the battle for new customers. Yet no matter how great the variety, there are a few species that customers expect to see every day. A list of the top three fresh species customers assume they'll find in any fish display in North America would include salmon, catfish, and some type of flounder (flatfish). While the most popular fish may vary depending on geographic location, the one that is capturing the attention of consumers worldwide is fresh salmon. Salmon is truly one of the world's most important commercially marketed species of fish.

Although salmon's importance is undisputed, there is some confusion about the fish itself. After all, there are seven types. To make things easier, think of salmon as being in two distinctive classifications in the market: farm-raised and wild.

Atlantic salmon is almost exclusively farm-raised, while there are six types of wild Alaskan Pacific salmon. They are: king or chinook, chum, pink, sockeye, cherry, and coho.

An ocean of confusion

Atlantic salmon has caused much confusion among consumers and supermarket seafood merchants alike. First and most common is that since the word "Atlantic" is used to name the fish, it would seem logically to come from the Atlantic Ocean. Yet this salmon, which is actually a member of the trout family, Salmo, is farm-grown in many oceans of the world. Chile and Canada are two of the largest Atlantic salmon producers. Other countries where aquaculture produces this fish are Scotland, Norway, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Some farmers are also having success raising coho and chinook/king salmon.

Atlantic salmon is the product found on display in most seafood counters 52 weeks a year, worldwide. Since this fish is farm-raised, there is no seasonal harvest. The wild Alaskan salmon season, or "run," occurs once a year, during July and August. While the Atlantic salmon began as a wild species, most of the remaining wild stock is now reserved for sport fishermen.

Another area of confusion regarding Atlantic salmon is its remarkable similarity to the steelhead trout, another member of genus Salmo, which also includes the rainbow trout. In comparing the bright red meat of both the Atlantic salmon and the steelhead, even experienced seafood service clerks can be fooled, especially if the fish has been skinned. Each breed has a pleasing taste and fairly comparable pricing structure; however, the wise merchant will want to label them correctly to avoid any question.

There was a time when Washington State and Alaska pressured the Food and Drug Administration to allow only Pacific species to be labeled as salmon, contending that Atlantic salmon should be considered trout. The issue was settled in 1989, when the American Fisheries Society moved the rainbow trout out of the Salmo genus, and placed it in the Oncorhynchus family along with the Alaskan Pacific salmon, declaring the Atlantic salmon officially a salmon.

The market for the various types of Alaskan salmon is very diverse. The canned salmon sold on grocery shelves throughout the world is processed from the meat of the sockeye and pink salmon. The cherry salmon is mostly consumed in Japan. Chinook, coho, and chum salmon are sold commercially in fresh, frozen, or smoked form.

Merchandising tips

Merchandising fresh salmon in the supermarket is an excellent way to increase your weekly sales base. Customers are attracted to salmon by its fresh appearance, good pricing, and ease of cooking. Fresh salmon, whether wild or farm-raised, offers many interesting marketing characteristics and much versatility. Perhaps the most exciting attribute of salmon is its brilliant reddish/orange color, which stands out from all other fish in the display case. Customers can see the product even from across the grocery aisle. Moreover, they are drawn closer to look at this marvelous fresh fish.

Customers purchase fish with their eyes. They understand there is a wild salmon season and that they can purchase farm-raised salmon year-round. However, there are differences in appearance between them. It is important that you explain the color variations. Let your customers know if the product is farm-raised or wild through proper labeling. Of course, they can expect to see wild salmon mostly in the summer, but there is a small harvest of Pacific salmon in the winter as well.

Color contrast

Use the brilliant color of salmon to contrast with white-flesh fish. Always display the fillets or steaks meat side up. Look for any defects in the meat like blood spots or bruises, and remove the blemishes before displaying the fish. Keep in mind that shoppers notice salmon by color, so to get them to view your entire display, use salmon in more than one place.

Salmon offers wonderful versatility when it comes to cooking methods. This is one fish that grills, broils, bakes, and poaches with great success. It is a good idea to have recipes, brochures, and information about salmon that your customers can take home. You can get free point-of-sale materials from the Alaskan Marketing Institute,, when you're offering wild Alaskan salmon.

Salmon is good for the heart, so let your customers know about it. Contact the American Heart Association in your area for more information about the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and their benefits to the heart. Customers want to know what foods are good for them. On Oct. 31, 1995, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported: "One serving of fatty fish per week can reduce the risk of cardiac arrest by 50 to 70 percent." Salmon is an excellent fish that is high in good fatty characteristics. Some stores across the country have held healthy-heart seminars in conjunction with the American Heart Association and featured salmon on sale.

For more information on this important fish, read Salmon by Ian Dore, published by Van Nostrand Reinhold in 1990.

Michael F. Bavota is a frequent writer on seafood merchandising and training issues, and is the author of Seafood Lover's Bible.
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