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Point of View: Retail seafood resolutions

The holidays may be over, but now is the time to win over infrequent customers

Chuck Anderson
By Chuck Anderson
January 05, 2012

The best time of the year to catch new seafood customers is here. Will your seafood department be ready to net increased sales and profits?

With the New Year upon us, a couple of trends will happen at retail seafood counters across the country this month. Seafood markets see an increase in customer traffic. New or infrequent customers are looking for meal choices to fulfill resolutions to eat healthier or lose weight in the New Year.

Other customers get a taste for seafood again after enjoying it during holiday celebrations. Consumer surveys tell us that 25 percent of customers buy seafood on a regular basis, about 25 percent never buy seafood and about 50 percent buy seafood infrequently. December and January are when many of those infrequent purchases occur. What does it take to turn these customers into regulars at your seafood department?

Get your department ready. This is a challenge coming out of the two busiest weeks of the year, but it has to be done. Schedule extra hours to thoroughly clean and sanitize the seafood department. One of the biggest turn-offs for occasional retail seafood customers is a seafood department that smells like fish.

New and infrequent customers are often unsure what products they want. They are insecure about seafood handling and cooking seafood at home.

Plan promotions on easy-to-cook, safe fish items such as tilapia, salmon, swai and catfish, which are good choices for the first weeks of the year. The fish should be boneless and skinless for ease of preparation.

Plan promotions on ready-to-cook items such as fish burgers, salmon pinwheels and marinated or encrusted fillets. For many insecure seafood shoppers, the less it looks like a fish, and the easier it is to prepare, the better.

Have plenty of fish on hand. It is very common for seafood managers to under order the best-selling, fresh, farmed fish during the first weeks of the year. On top of increased demand, most fresh wild items such as cod, flounder and live shellfish will be out of stock due to weather, reduced fishing effort and logistical issues over the holidays. It is also wise to run a few previously frozen fish items on promotion the first couple of weeks, just to be sure there is product in the store to sell.

Offer to steam or fry seafood purchases — this can be the decision-maker for a new seafood customer. Now is the time to play up easy-to-use spices and marinades designed for seafood. Be ready with more recipe cards and seafood-handling handouts to reassure new customers. Recipe racks will empty quickly in January after collecting dust during the fall.

Train seafood staff to help new customers with handling tips and recipe suggestions. Make sure the seafood department has enough help during peak hours to handle increased fresh fish sales. Selling fresh fish to infrequent customers takes more time than selling shrimp and crab over the holidays. Sales per man-hour will be lower than the holiday weeks, but still higher than most weeks of the year.

Shellfish and party items will still sell well in January. Football games will keep tailgate seafood sales strong, and many customers will get a taste of something at a holiday party they want to try at home. Be ready with cooked shrimp, crab dips, salmon spread, crabmeat, scallops, lobster tails and party platters.

Don’t miss this golden opportunity to win long-term customers: It is the best time of the year.

Retail seafood veteran Chuck Anderson is the director of new business and retail for Sousa Seafood in Boston
January 2012 - SeaFood Business


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