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What's in Store: Case psychology

There’s nothing random about how seafood is placed on display

Seafood’s shapes, colors and textures give retailers many presentation options. - Photo courtesy of Publix
By Christine Blank
February 01, 2013

Every seafood retailer knows sourcing the freshest seafood available is not enough. Knowing the science and consumer research behind fresh seafood merchandising is what helps some markets excel.

Take Santa Monica Seafood of Santa Monica, Calif., a longtime wholesaler that also operates two stores with cafés. Its Costa Mesa, Calif., store features a custom seafood case that is a continuous 64 feet. 

“When you come through the front door, you kind of get hit with that ‘wow factor,’” says Bob Vogel, the company’s director of retail operations. “The lighting is very extravagant — each bulb costs $45 — and produces a crisp, clean light.” 

The unique horseshoe shape of its Santa Monica store’s glass case also draws attention. And breaking up fish by color palette really helps cases in both stores pop, according to Vogel. 

“It helps to have the salmons up front, then purples and reds with items like tuna, then your whites with sea bass and other fish, then back to Arctic char,” Vogel says. 

The correct presentation of the fresh seafood case is essential to sales. “It is extremely important to have a grand opening atmosphere, where the product is well presented and looks fresh at all times,” says Pat Lee, seafood buyer for Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas’ Family of Stores. AJ’s Fine Foods, one of Bashas’ banners, arranges its fish by cooking type, color and texture.

“We believe that color and freshness are the first considerations. Color breaks between lighter and darker species help our cases to stand out,” Lee says. At AJ’s, textured species for grilling, such as tuna, salmon, mahimahi and halibut are typically displayed together. Fish that are mainly for baking like cod, snapper and sole are also grouped. 

Customers also look for an abundant case, Lee says. “Nobody wants to buy from a store or department that isn’t perceived as selling a lot of seafood.”

Abundant displays are one of the most important factors in eye appeal, agrees Jay Jacobowitz, president of retail consulting firm Retail Insights in Brattleboro, Vt., along with color and texture. 

“You need to have a banner effect, creating large enough areas of color or texture, and then layering contrasting areas to draw the eye. You see this with brand merchandising in packaged goods, where the same brand of product creates a banner effect that draws the eye,” Jacobowitz says.

“Our research shows us that our customers want neatly organized displays, with items and price points clearly identified,” says Maria Brous, spokesperson for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets. Instead of focusing solely on color and texture, Publix sets its cases by grouping. Finfish and shellfish are grouped in sections together. Then, cooked and/or value-added versions of the fish or shellfish are integrated into the displays beside those products. 

Arranging fish by price is prominent in Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market’s fresh seafood displays. 

“With these economic times, smart merchandisers put the tilapia up front at $6.99 a pound and the jumbo shrimp in the back of the case at $22.99 a pound. This is something that Whole Foods Markets did to great effect in repositioning itself to get away from its ‘whole paycheck’ reputation,” Jacobowitz says. 

During the start of the recession in 2009, Whole Foods executives re-evaluated the retailers’ entire value proposition, from its merchandising to its proposition, Jacobowitz says. As a result, Whole Foods launched its “Whole Deal” program, running weekly specials in every department. This turnaround impacted the type and price points of seafood carried in Whole Foods’ cases, according to Jacobowitz. “In the past, it was almost a snob appeal to shop there, so it was fine to put $22-a-pound shrimp in the front of the case,” Jacobowitz says. 

When advising retailers on fresh seafood displays, Will Martin, retail merchandiser at distributor Seattle Fish Co. in Denver, says color, texture and seasonality are top factors.  

“We try to break up the color scheme, have different textures of fish and have separation between raw and cooked,” Martin says. In addition, stores should prominently display a variety of fish for the season of the year. For example, they can offer rockfish and halibut, which are generally baked, during the winter months and tuna, swordfish and other seafood for grilling in the summer.

Communicating certain characteristics about seafood is also becoming a more vital merchandising tool in supermarkets’ fresh seafood departments. 

“Seafood managers answer a lot of questions about wild versus farm-raised. Having that separation in the case is a great talking point for shoppers,” Martin says. 

In terms of labeling for sustainability, the only fish that Santa Monica Seafood labels as Marine Stewardship Council-certified is Chilean sea bass, according to Vogel. 

Because the retailer has been so involved in carrying sustainable seafood since its inception as a wholesaler, company owners do not believe additional sustainability labeling in the case is necessary. 

“To have a flagging system … creates the opportunity that the consumer doesn’t really have the background and knowledge to understand what is going on. I would rather create dialogue between the customer and the person behind the counter,” Vogel says.

While baby boomers are the primary group seeking out quality and sustainable seafood, those in the millennial or Generation Y demographic (typically those born in the 1980s) are reinforcing the move toward buying environmentally friendly and high-quality seafood, Jacobowitz says. “The millenials are driving this: They are very quality oriented,” he says.

As a result, more supermarket chains will include sustainable and origin labeling in their case in the future, Jacobowitz predicts. “The quality-positioned retailers, such as Wegmans, Fred Meyer and Central Market, will be talking more about this,” he says. 

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla. 


Find other SeaFood Business articles discussing seafood displays here.

February 2013 - SeaFood Business    

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