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Seafood University: Wine and seafood make perfect partners

Cross-marchandising can help nudge your customers toward dual purchases.

By Joanne Friedrick
June 01, 2005

As consumers’ interest in wine continues to rise, so do your opportunities to cross-merchandise the store’s wine offerings in your seafood department.

Adams Beverage Group of Palm Springs, Calif., reports that adult Americans in 2003 consumed an average of 2.98 gallons of wine per person — the equivalent of about 16 bottles. That was an increase of 5.2 percent over 2002’s consumption, or a total of 258.3 million 9-liter cases. Face it, that’s a lot of wine.

So what is your department doing to get a share of that business? While seafood is your primary focus, knowing what wines work best with certain species, or displaying wine in or near the seafood section, can get customers thinking about a complete meal solution, with wine driving seafood sales and vice versa.

At The Reef, Rick Meyer’s 4-year-old fresh-seafood–and-wine shop in Redington Shores, Fla., native seafood, ranging from three to four kinds of grouper and snapper to tuna, shrimp and amberjack, shares space with up to 1,400 bottles of wine representing 140 different vintages.

Meyer says 10 percent of his customers buy both wine and seafood. That’s the same figure cited by Sam Dean, assistant manager at Burhop’s Seafood in Wilmette, Ill.

However, Lucinda Hudgins, co-owner of Tommy’s Gourmet Market & Wine Emporium in Duck, N.C., says joint wine and seafood purchases account for about 20 percent of her business.

Even with those relatively small numbers, retailers say wine and seafood are natural partners and should be promoted as such.

Meyer says one message to convey to customers is that wine and seafood both offer health benefits. Studies have shown moderate wine consumption is good for the heart, reduces the risk of stroke and lessens the chances of kidney stones in women.

Seafood that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce cholesterol and heart disease.

Both Meyer and Dean say cooking classes or demonstrations can give customers first-hand knowledge about which wines and seafood go well together.

Gui Alinat, a well-known local French chef, conducts monthly cooking demonstrations for 30 people at The Reef, says Meyer. A recent class offered scallops on rosemary skewers, salt-crusted snapper and mussels in red wine with garlic and butter. Typically, Meyer says, he provides samples of four to six wines per class, sometimes starting off with champagne.

The classes not only provide students with information on wine and seafood pairings but generate repeat business for the store. About half the class members are regular customers, and the other half are new shoppers. Those who sign up for the class, which costs $25, are given a case price on wine as well.

Dean says Burhop’s offers cooking demonstrations on Saturdays and has a wine-company representative on hand to sample appropriate wines from the store’s 30- to 50-bottle assortment.

Tommy’s Gourmet goes a different route on education. Hudgins says she does sample wine within the store but uses methods other than classes or sampling to tell the story of wine-and-seafood pairings.

In the seafood department, an 8-by-10-inch sign with the image of a particular wine is set up on top of the display case, along with several bottles of that varietal. The featured wine changes periodically, she says, based on availability in the store and the time of year.

The store’s wine section, which carries between 650 and 1,000 bottles, is located nearby for easy browsing and features a sign listing pairings recommended by Hudgins’ husband, Stuart.

He notes, for instance, that delicate fish like sole, flounder, clams and oysters should be paired with light-bodied wines, such as Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Riesling.

More substantial, flavorful fish — snapper, bass, shrimp, scallops and steamed or broiled crabs — can handle a medium-bodied wine such as Pouilly-Fume or Chardonnay. Chardonnays also go well with tuna, swordfish, salmon, lobster and crab cakes, while light-bodied reds — Chianti, Pinot Noir and Burgundy — are good choices with salmon, tuna and swordfish.

Hudgins says in addition to the signage, a few overall good choices with seafood are positioned within viewing distance of the seafood counter so employees working there can easily point out some options. These wines are usually “not overly anything,” Hudgins explains, meaning neither too sweet nor too citrusy. Employees, she says, take wine classes from her husband a couple of times a year to get up to speed on what’s available in the store. They can then walk the aisles to offer assistance with wine pairings.

“Because we are a small market, we can offer that personal service,” says Hudgins.

Even staff at the registers are instructed to look at what customers are purchasing and make a wine suggestion if it’s appropriate, or steer customers away from a bad wine-pairing choice.

“It’s all about how [the wine] will make that food taste,” she says. “I want [our customers] to have a great experience so they come back to Tommy’s.”

Rather than suggest a set group of wines to go with a particular fish or seafood choice, Meyer says he relies on knowing his wines and interviewing his customers to come up with the right selections.

“I have tasted 90 to 95 percent of the wines in the store,” he says. “So I know enough about them to put [the customers] on to the good wines.”

“I’m a firm believer that you drink what you like,” adds Meyer, noting that a confirmed red-wine drinker shouldn’t be forced to select a white wine based on the type of fish being purchased.

A kind of “question-and-answer session” takes place, he says, and he always has two red and two white wines open for sampling. “I sample things, and we go from there,” he says.

Both wine and seafood may seem intimidating to some consumers, but if you have a knowledgeable staff and a handy supply of several key wines they can discuss readily, it will be a whole lot easier to sell customers on both products.

Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine
June 2005 - SeaFood Business

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