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Global Retail: Simple solution

UK retailer Asda aims to make seafood purchases easier for customers

Asda seafood departments offer shoppers a three-step seafood-buying experience.    - Photo courtesy of Asda
By Jason Holland
May 04, 2012

One of the biggest problems for retailers has been getting those customers who experiment with a wide variety of fish when eating at restaurants to maintain that enthusiasm when filling their retail shopping baskets.

It’s well documented that this reluctance to cook fish at home is created by many factors, such as the often-daunting idea of handling and preparing it. There’s also a sizeable band of consumers who stick only to the market-favorite species because they lack the confidence to buy and cook the alternatives.

In the United Kingdom, the latest project geared to tackling these problems is Asda’s Fish Made Simple initiative. The campaign launch has been accompanied by a large TV advertising campaign using the face of Darren Wrend, one of the retailer’s fishmongers.

Following the recent overhaul of all its 302 fresh fish counters at a total cost of £1.6 million (€1.9 million, $2.6 million), Wrend and his fellow Asda fishmongers help shoppers choose their fish from more than 20 varieties. Customers then select their preferred marinades, sauces, flavored butters or crumb toppings. Finally, they choose a cooking method so it’s handed over in either a microwave bag, oven bag or BBQ foil tray ready to cook.

Asda, a subsidiary of global retailer Walmart, claims the three-step initiative gives its customers more than 100 different fish and sauce combinations. But what will probably prove more crucial is that each dish in the range costs less than £2.40 (€2.88, $3.83).

Jill Skipsey, seafood buyer at Asda, says the inspiration for Fish Made Simple came from customer research projects that found the British public loved eating fish on holiday or in restaurants and wanted to eat more. They know it’s good for them, but they’re often too scared to prepare it at home, she says.

“It was obvious to us [that] customers needed help with flavors to go with fish and to have simple ways to cook that were not time consuming. We took inspiration from other countries’ fish shops, Iceland in particular, and other proteins (McGee’s Butchers in Northern Ireland) on how to sell ready-made solutions like fish kebabs and fish with sauce,” says Skipsey. 

“We decided, following perception-data feedback, it was not right to put a lot of flavored fish on the counter [and] it would be better to offer the sauce, marinades, crumbs and butters as a free addition so we would still have fantastic quality fish on the counter that the customers could see. We then spent a lot of time developing the best flavors for fish from recipe books, restaurant menus and visits abroad.”

Asda says it’s too early to gauge the impact of Fish Made Simple on sales, but did remark that the reaction from its customers “had been very positive.” Trials conducted in four stores leading up to the launch showed a 15 percent increase in fish sales. 

In a further boost to its fish category, the retailer started offering gurnard across its fish counters last month. It will also be making coley available in a pre-packed format and is looking to expand sourcing of hake, pollock and coley for counters throughout this year.

“Due to our improvements in quality and [offerings] we have seen sales grow ahead of the market since May 2011 (Nielsen data),” says Skipsey. 

“The fish counter sales have been particularly strong due to training development of our [staff] so volume growth has been greater than value growth on our counters.”

Asda hasn’t seen any negative impact from its decision not to renew its Marine Stewardship Council chain-of-custody certification. This move, taken in 2011, was due to internal audit demands and associated costs.

“Some customers are more aware on sustainability, and we did see growth in the smaller sales species following the ‘Fish Fight’ program. However, for most customers quality (look and taste) of fish is more important; they buy with their eyes.

We saw significant growth when we moved to line-caught cod and haddock, but we feel this was more due to the look of the fish — less bruising, blood spots, etc.,” says Skipsey.

“MSC is not really a customer message, so we have had no customer queries on the counter since we removed the logo. 

“We are still purchasing all the MSC fish we had before from the same MSC fisheries, but we do not use the logo as we did not have the resource to audit every fish counter every year, which was needed to keep the chain of custody,” she adds.

While in the past, U.K. retail initiatives such as Sainsbury’s Switch the Fish and Marks and Spencer’s Forever Fish campaigns — both launched less than a year ago — proved to boost sales over a period of time, Asda’s undertaking has the potential to have a much more long-term effect on its seafood sales.

Not only does the Fish Made Simple program directly address the core issue of giving consumers greater confidence in purchasing fish, but the retailer’s target market is more price-conscious shoppers than, say, Marks & Spencer or Sainsbury’s, it’s making its fish offerings long-term, affordable options.

Contributing Editor Jason Holland lives in London

May 2012 - SeaFood Business 

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