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Whats In Store: Living color

Flagship Rouse’s store boasts live tilapia, hydroponic produce garden

By christine blank
August 01, 2012

Seafood is taking on new and unusual roles in Rouse’s flagship New Orleans store, which opened in December. Inside is a 100-gallon tank with live tilapia; open, self-serve cases of loose Gulf shrimp; and 16 feet of fresh seafood displays. Most notably, the three-story, 40,000-square-foot store is the first in the United States to feature a hydroponic garden on its rooftop.

In addition to the herbs being grown for sale at the store, Rouse’s executives are looking at adding an aquaponic tilapia system to the rooftop, which would raise tilapia for live sale in the New Orleans store. If approved, the recirculating system would help feed the produce. In turn, the plants filter fish waste. 

“If we do add it, I imagine it will be ready in six months,” says Jack Treuting, business development manager for the 39-store Rouse’s chain, based in Thibodaux, La. Such a system would include fiberglass tanks that would hold up to 1,000 fish.

“The benefit to this is a 100 percent sustainable program in-store. This would be a huge benefit to consumers because they would know exactly where the fish came from: It can’t get any more ‘local’ than that,” says James Breuhl, seafood director for Rouse’s. The aquaponic operation would also likely serve as a showpiece, drawing more customers to the store. Already, students and shoppers tour the hydroponic rooftop operation, which consists of 60 vertical towers that produce 30 to 40 retail packs of herbs per tower. “I do not think there are any aquaponic rooftop gardens that offer retail options,” says Treuting.

The upscale store is also the first Rouse’s location to feature live fish in addition to live lobsters. Rouse’s executives say the live tilapia appeal to the substantial Asian-American population in the area and fill a growing demand in general for live fish. 

“Consumers have responded real well to the live tilapia tank. In one of our future locations, we plan on expanding live species such as speckled trout and redfish,” says Breuhl.

However, there are more expenses and complexities involved in selling live fish, according to Breuhl. “You have to have a special permit to carry live, so I am working with [Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries] to get it shipped in,” says Breuhl. 

Farmed Louisiana tilapia is also featured in the store’s 16-foot fresh seafood section, making it the first Rouse’s store to sell local tilapia. “There is a fish farm within 200 miles of our company. We partnered with them so we won’t have to import as much tilapia,” says Breuhl. While the local tilapia is more expensive — an average of $11.99 per pound at retail versus around $9.99 per pound for imported tilapia — Rouse’s executives are committed to the program. 

“It is a firmer, larger fish; the quality is much better than the imports. We are working on developing the market with our supplier so that, hopefully, we will be able to purchase all of our product from Louisiana in the future,” says Breuhl. Rouse’s touts itself as “The Local Grocery Store,” and consumers demand local products, he adds.

In the New Orleans store’s fresh seafood department, 40 different fresh SKUs are featured daily, including popular local items such as shrimp and redfish, but also more unique items from around the world. “We have a lot of restaurants in the area, and they have been starting to purchase more products from us. As a result, we carry more exotics at this location than other stores,” says Breuhl.

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla. 

August 2012 - SeaFood Business 

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