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Point of View: Missing the boat in the seafood department

Ron Loynes has worked in seafood sales, purchasing and processing in the United States and Central America for more than 30 years. He lives in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
By Ron Loynes
June 27, 2012

Per-capita seafood consumption has changed little over the last couple of years and the explanation is simple; you’re asking the wrong people for answers and targeting the wrong people to buy seafood. 

I’ve been a retail seafood specialist for a major grocery chain for the past 13 years and keep seeing the same mistakes over and over again. First, the questionnaires and surveys are targeting people who already buy seafood, and second, no one at the corporate level is asking or paying attention to the people who actually sell seafood. 

Grocery stores have a captive audience of thousands of people a week, yet dollar wise we only sell 2.5 percent of total sales to them. We try to sell more seafood to people who already buy seafood, and miss the people who do not buy seafood at all. Does the seafood industry have any kind of focused sales plan without the hidden agendas or misleading facts? The government has its “eat seafood twice a week” plan but any good sales person knows this is not specific, is not measurable, has no real time frame and therefore is not attainable.

You don’t really think that 312 million people in the United States eat 15.8 pounds of seafood every year, do you? The greatest amount of seafood is consumed in restaurants, next is people who eat at both restaurants and cook at home, then last is people who only eat at home, but in no way is the entire U.S. population eating seafood. All of our retail marketing efforts are targeted for the people who eat seafood at both restaurants and at home, but restaurants do their own advertising and people who cook at home are already buying seafood. 

Check with your retail seafood specialist how many of their 10,000 weekly store customers buy seafood every week; it’s only 10 percent or 20 percent! So our target market is 8,000 to 9,000 people per week? Another way to look at it is if 187 million people eat seafood both at restaurants and at home, that leaves 125 million potential customers! So as far as new seafood sales penetration is concerned, we are clearly missing the boat. 

We know who and how big the missing market is, so why are they not buying? Three reasons: confusion, value and preparation confidence. Let’s start with confusion: No one in the shrimp industry buys shrimp by “extra large” or “medium” or “jumbo”— this is the colorful language of restaurant marketing. Packages show pictures of products not in them; for instance, a shrimp bag with a picture of whole shrimp, legs and antennae included, but inside the bag is actually raw shrimp, P&D, with head and tail off. Why not color code the bag, put a 3-inch stripe in red for cooked, blue stripe for raw and then add a second stripe with white or pink or brown for the type or species of shrimp? Then clearly show a P&D or shell-on, tail-off or tail-on shrimp without the head or legs in the picture, and what you see is what you get! Then put the number of shrimp per pound in the bag, 64 to 70 shrimp per 2-pound bag (31-35 per pound). These are things I have to deal with every day because the customers don’t understand it. 

Another confusing customer question is which is better, wild or farmed? We need to get away from tabloid marketing or hidden agendas regarding wild or farmed salmon. If properly handled, all salmon is healthy for you! Saying anything else is confusing and does a disservice to our customers.

The second reason not all retail customers buy seafood is value. If you count the number of choices of meat products sold fresh in a grocery store you’ll see that there are hundreds of choices of chicken, beef, pork and turkey in different cuts. Yet 80 percent of them are less than $6 a pound, but in the 30 or so seafood choices in the fresh case about 80 percent or more are more than $10 a pound.  

Finally, preparation confidence: Stick to recipe suggestions of four or five ingredients that cook in 10 minutes or less. Keep it simple; once you get a customer to successfully cook a moist seafood dinner at home (I recommend a simple microwave recipe with farmed salmon, which can be purchased anywhere) it will be easy to expand to new items and methods. Now with selling and showing one new customer (of the 125 million possible) how to cook seafood at home, watch the consumption numbers rise. After all, the more people eat seafood, the longer you’ll be able to sell them.

Ron Loynes has worked in seafood sales, purchasing and processing in the United States and Central America for more than 30 years. He lives in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

June 2012 - SeaFood Business 

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