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SeaFood University: Cross merchandising simplifies meal solutions

Retailers who go beyond rubs and marinades can upsell with gift baskets and kitchenware

"Everything Salmon" gift baskets at Heinen's incorporate perishables from the seafood department and condiments from other parts of the store. - Heinen's Fine Food
Joanne Friedrick
May 24, 2012

Customer satisfaction often means going beyond the basic sale in the seafood department. For many retailers, this means sending consumers home with a complete meal solution, including extra ingredients needed to create an exciting entrée.

An effective way to promote seafood-based meal solutions is by cross-merchandising products from the grocery, produce and kitchenware departments so items needed to prepare the meal are close at hand.

Even with limited counter space, you can still feature fresh and bottled citrus juice, cocktail sauces and seafood marinades. The top of an enclosed seafood case is an ideal spot for recipe cards and selected bottles of sauces and rubs.

Keep several condiment selections on hand to ensure something for all taste preferences, suggests Jonathan Copeland, seafood category manager at Wild Oats Markets, a national chain of natural-food stores based in Boulder, Colo.

“And it’s not difficult to keep a few cases under the counter,” he says, so countertop clutter is kept to a minimum but stocking is made simple.

In determining the cross-merchandising options, make the rounds of your own store to see what is available. Check out the condiment or specialty food aisle for sauces and marinades, the spice section for jarred rubs and shrimp- and crabboil mixes, the produce department for fresh lemons, limes and herbs and the kitchenware area for citrus reamers, lobster crackers, metal and wooden skewers and the like.

Copeland maintains a strong relationship with category managers in the grocery department, who keep him apprised of appropriate new potential meal ingredients or accessories as they come into the store.

It’s a benefit for both departments, he says, if a customer in the seafood section is introduced to a grocery or produce item and a sale is made.

Manufacturers also approach Copeland weekly with items they believe will sell well in the seafood department. That’s a change, Copeland says, from the not-so-distant past when seafood-related products were hard to come by.

“There’s more emphasis by companies to help make seafood a priority on people’s shopping lists,” he explains.

Manufacturer-supplied shippers are another way to bring products into the seafood area without giving away counter space. Such floor displays also allow customers to serve themselves, and a recipe card on the shipper typically provides additional information.

Copeland says floor displays work in the conventional supermarket, but Wild Oats prefers to position items in a way that they can be discussed with and explained to the customer.

It’s important for the seafood-department staff to understand crossmerchandised products, says Copeland, and preparing and tasting the products are part of that education.

“A lemon-garlic rub may work great on the grill,” he says, but maybe not on fish that is sautéed, so it’s best to try things out.

“It’s all about trust in the seafood department,” he says, whether it’s selling the seafood itself or what goes with it.

In addition to the tried-and-true cross-merchandising products like citrus and sauces, Copeland enjoys bringing in more upscale products to accompany his selection of smoked salmon and caviar, including specialty crackers and gourmet cheeses.

He encourages retailers also to consider merchandising seafood products in other departments. For example, you might display smoked salmon and seafood salad in the cheese case or value-added items in the deli area.

This way, customers who may not normally shop the seafood section will be exposed to what the department has to offer.

At Heinen’s Fine Food, a chain of 15 specialty grocery stores in northeast
Ohio, a recently launched seafood-gift-basket program has brought some non-perishable and kitchenware items into the seafood department, helping customers visualize how to make seafood the focus of their gift giving.

Marty Gaul, Heinen’s seafood merchandiser, says the program, launched in October 2004, initially focused on an “Everything Salmon” basket and a “Seafood Grilling” basket, both of which sell for $69, along with some smaller gift sets in the $30 range featuring a few rubs, marinades and seafood items.

Both baskets and the gift sets, says seafood buyer Paul Solomon, include cedar planks engraved with the Heinen’s logo. The planks were acquired through National Seafood Educators in Richmond Beach, Wash., which also supplies the cookbooks “Seafood Grilling Twice A Week” and “Seafood Twice A Week” for the grilling basket.

Solomon says Heinen’s seafood departments have merchandised rubs and marinades in the past and decided to use the wooden planks to extend the grilling theme.

Since perishable items like smoked salmon are included in the salmon basket, Gaul keeps those baskets refrigerated, either in the seafood case or on refrigerated display shelves next to the seafood department. The grilling items can be merchandised on the counter top, or in the holiday fruit basket display.

Solomon and Gaul say the baskets aren’t just for the holidays; they can be merchandised year-round.

“This is just an idea of what we can do,” says Gaul, adding that the seafood department happily customizes baskets upon request.

Some customers buy the baskets or sets as gifts, but others use them to prepare their own meal, buying a piece of fish or some other seafood to go with it, says Solomon.

“Everything is there for a meal,” says Gaul, “all you need to do is pick up the fish.”

Solomon says he wants to package several cedar planks with some rubs or marinades for an easy seafood meal concept.

Cross merchandising, after all, is all part of making the seafood department consumer friendly. By offering a variety of ingredients and preparation items right at the counter, you can help your customer envision a seafood meal on that night’s menu.

February 2005 - SeaFood Business

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