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What's in Store: Doing the demo

In-store promotions and demonstrations create excitement around seafood

by Christine Blank
May 04, 2012

When Sweetbay Supermarket wanted to promote Alaska seafood a couple of summers ago, the Delhaize Group-owned chain in Tampa, Fla., did it in a big way. Instead of the typical sampling event, Sweetbay held a special “Seafaring Celebration,” featuring Andy Hillstrand, a crab boat captain on “The Deadliest Catch,” along with cooking demonstrations of Alaska king crab and other Alaska seafood.

Sweetbay shoppers were invited to learn about the many ways to prepare king crab from Hillstrand and celebrity chef Rick Tarantino from The Home Shopping Network. Tarantino and one of his companies, Demonstration Marketing Services (DMS) served a variety of king crab dishes including appetizers and hot and cold entrées. As part of the successful demos, DMS partnered with a local bread vendor, a mayonnaise provider, McCormick and Land O’Lakes, which shared the costs of the event. Tarantino developed around six different Alaska king crab recipes for shoppers to take home with them. “It was absolutely phenomenal,” he says.

Once shoppers heard about Hillstrand’s appearance and smelled the crab cooking, the store was overflowing.

“We didn’t anticipate that many people showing up to the store, so we ran out of samples at one point,” says Susan Zaso, operations manager for Cherry Hill, N.J.-based DMS.

Tarantino stresses the importance of in-store seafood sampling.

“You have to really educate consumers, because seafood is out of the comfort zone for most of them,” says Tarantino. Shoppers are not necessarily going to read a brochure explaining why farmed salmon is a sustainable product, for example. As a result, cooking and sampling seafood is one of the best ways to teach shoppers how easy it is to prepare seafood, along with its versatility and health benefits, he adds.

Several other U.S. supermarket chains — including Wegmans, Heinen’s, Publix Super Markets, Hannaford and Balducci’s — do a great job with educating shoppers and promoting seafood through demos and events, says Tarantino. The top retailers are effective because their seafood staff is well educated and, “when it comes to putting seafood into the marketing mix, it gets the same exposure ratio that other proteins do,” says Tarantino.

For example, Wegmans recently published articles on pairing fish and sauces in two issues of its consumer magazine, Wegmans Menu. In addition, shoppers can ask Wegmans’ seafood staff any question about the seafood they are purchasing — including where it comes from — and they typically have the answers, says Tarantino. Wegmans’ demo program features seafood on a regular basis.

Publix also excels at sampling seafood with its Aprons meal program. At Aprons stations, Publix staff cooks and samples a variety of entrées — including those with seafood — and provides recipes to go along with the meal. “When a customer walks into Publix and sees something cooking, they smell it and want to see what’s going on,” says Tarantino. Typically, the ingredients for the meal are displayed in a refrigerated case next to the station.

Retailers should keep seafood demos simple and provide recipes that will take consumers 20 minutes or less to cook, says Tarantino. For example, prepare a steamed Dover sole with lemon-butter sauce and asparagus in the store. “The dish looks like you walked out of a gourmet restaurant and is healthy because it is steamed,” says Tarantino.

“When you show people that cooking fish is really easy and there are so many ways to do it, the fear comes out of cooking seafood,” adds Zaso.

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla. 

May 2012 - SeaFood Business 

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