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Special Feature: Display case

Buyers look for energy savings and help in telling seafood’s story

By Melissa Wood
March 05, 2012

Maybe seafood fraud would be less of an issue if more people knew what the different types of fish looked like. Dirk Fucik, owner of Dirk’s Fish in Chicago, helps his customers tell which fish is which by including the whole fish, front and center, in his retail seafood display.

“Americans are used to having everything prepared, wrapped up in a foam tray and ready to go,” says Fucik. “That’s one of the reasons why we put a whole fish on display. People go, ‘What’s that?’ and we tell them, ‘That’s what the whole parrot fish looks like before they cut it.’ It gives them an idea of what their fish actually looks like.”

Fucik puts the roughly 20 varieties of fish he gets per day on ice in Pinnacle display cases that are more than 30 years old. He labels his seafood with signs in front of the case, and highlights hot picks for the weekend and specials on a blackboard behind the counter.

“I try to give as much information as possible to people when they walk in the door,” he explains. “Selling seafood is educational, a lot of it, and a lot of people don’t know about fish.”

As Fucik points out, displaying seafood is not just about showing — but also telling. With the rise of sustainability programs, retailers also have to bring those sustainable products to their customers’ attention. Sustainability is also playing a role in the display equipment itself with stores making efforts to cut energy use without taking away from the product’s appearance.

With the launch of its sustainable seafood program last October, Shaw’s Supermarket made some changes in its display to highlight Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified product and locally caught wild seafood certified by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in Portland, Maine.

“Within the case we’ve developed sliders to brand sustainable seafood using the MSC or GMRI label that slide onto the top of our sign descriptors,” explains Jeff Foster, sales and merchandising manager for Shaw’s and Star Market, New England chains owned by SuperValu of Eden Prairie, Minn. “Outside of the logo we’ve developed some basic marketing materials with the help of MSC and GMRI to give the customer some further insight as to what sustainable seafood is and what those organizations do to monitor and certify it as sustainable.”

Those efforts include featuring a sustainable seafood item every week on the front page of its sales circular and putting a sustainable item in focus on the seafood page. Within the cases, sustainable items are spread out to demonstrate the range of offerings across different sections, including fresh fillets, value-added and shellfish.

“We think that our seafood displays are a great opportunity to inform consumers about the importance of sustainable seafood and our commitment to it,” says Eric Blom, external communications manager for Hannaford Supermarkets. Glass clings, signs and other tools put the focus on sustainable offerings that include wild seafood under the GMRI label and farmed product certified by the Aquaculture Certification Council.

What customers don’t see is the Maine-based chain’s commitment to sustainability also includes bringing down overall store energy use. 

“We currently have iceless cases in about 120 of our 179 supermarkets,” says Blom. “This is partially driven by our strong commitment to the environment. Going iceless in a store results in water savings of about 500 gallons per day, and fuel savings of about 500,000 BTUs daily from not having to melt the ice at the end of each day.”

For new seafood display case orders, energy efficiency is at the forefront of requests but looks are still everything, according to Dave Comeau, national sales manager for Stark Products, a manufacturer of seafood display cases in College Point, N.Y.

“Most frequently customers want to replace the cases to have a fresher look in the department, reduce their maintenance costs and at the same time keep their product fresher longer than they had before,” says Comeau. “People want a display case that’s going to sell as much product as possible at the lowest cost possible.”

Typically, he says most cases are kept cold by two types of systems. Gravity coil systems combine a refrigerated coil above the product and ice and a cold coil or cold plate under the product. Alternately, forced air refrigeration systems blow in cold air from the back. Comeau says the forced-air systems are more energy efficient but tend to dry out the product.

To solve this problem, Stark has introduced a reverse-air refrigeration system — blowing up air from the front instead of the back — that he says keeps the product cold without reducing its humidity.

“That cold air is now going to fall naturally down over the product, so you’re keeping the product in a cold environment, but you’re not blowing the air right over it,” explains Comeau. The second benefit of the system is that the case ends at the same height as the product in the back.

“Customers look at the display of seafood and that’s all they see in the back, just the seafood,” says Comeau.

Putting the focus on the product is also important in live displays. Daniel Vinci, president of Aquatic Enterprises in Seattle, says that remotely locating a tank’s filtration or life-support system is more energy efficient because the heat of the equipment is kept out of the cold seafood department. “That way all you hear is the sound of the water. You see the animals; you don’t hear the noise of the pumps and refrigeration system,” says Vinci.

Developed within the last five years, an automated water chemistry management system reduces problems like low water level conditions because it automatically tops the tank.

“It keeps it cleaner, it keeps the accumulation of pollutants down, it keeps the animals healthier,” says Vinci. More than just technology has changed since Vinci started Aquatic Enterprises in 1990; he has seen more retailers emphasizing their live displays. Recent big projects include a 10-foot coldwater tank for live Dungeness crab for a casino and a Seattle chain that installed a 10-foot, 500-gallon tilapia tank, a 6-foot shellfish tank and 6-foot stacking lobster and crab tanks.

“There are less people interested in smaller, cookie-cutter tanks, and more people interested in more grandiose, large-scale, high impact, large-capacity systems,” says Vinci. “They’re bringing the seafood department closer to the front of the store and making the seafood department more of a highlighted feature of the store.”

 

Email assistant editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com

March 2012 - SeaFood Business

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