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What's in Store: Fishes with benefits

Retailers plug into consumer awareness of seafood’s health benefits, omega-3s

Selling health at the seafood counter is a no-brainer for many supermarkets. - Photo courtesy of Publix
By Christine Blank
April 01, 2013

In recent years, supermarket health and wellness programs — complete with nutritional shelf labeling and registered dietitians (RDs) — have grown significantly. Even though fish is a lean protein and boasts numerous health benefits, seafood is often curiously missing from retailers’ health education programs.

That’s starting to change, as the nutritional information about seafood filters into the mainstream. Certain supermarket chains are starting to routinely call out seafood’s health benefits in literature, signage, demonstrations and cooking classes. 

“When you are presenting the real fresh product that contains beneficial nutrients, it’s a very short step to leveraging that in all your conversations, be that print, online or other avenues,” says Jay Jacobowitz, owner of retail consulting firm Retail Insights.

Take San Antonio, Texas-based HEB, which operates around 335 HEB and upscale Central Market stores. Several of its health education efforts — including tours and cooking classes with the chain’s six registered dietitians, newsletter and annual events — now feature seafood. “One of our main objectives is to increase consumption of both seafood and fruits and vegetables, and get people to try things they haven’t tried before,” says Kate Rogers, VP of communication and engagement for HEB.

To that end, its “Cooking Connections” program in HEB stores and on its website often offers seafood-meal ideas for shoppers, along with recipe cards and information about the healthfulness of seafood consumption. In addition, one of HEB’s RDs leads a cooking class centered on seafood. “We try to focus on cooking methods for seafood because, many times, customers are wary about cooking seafood,” Rogers says.

HEB’s dietitians also do community outreach and events, including TV appearances, which include information on seafood consumption and its related health benefits. “The dietitians will always steer people toward fish that are higher in omega-3 fatty acid content — salmon being the leading one,” Rogers says.

Seafood’s omega-3 content should be widely used in supermarkets’ marketing and health education efforts, Jacobowitz says. “It’s an opportunity for any retailer going to the trouble to merchandise fresh fish to leverage the omega-3 research that is out there. It is probably the largest and most active area of nutritional research in the world,” Jacobowitz says.

In its six annual health-themed events — focusing on conditions such as heart disease and cancer — HEB often promotes seafood as one of the foods that can help prevent illness. “People would assume that customers know about the link between food and the onset of certain conditions, but they don’t always understand that,” Rogers says.

HEB also features seafood in its “Slimdown Showdown” fit camps, which are similar to boot camps with an impetus on healthy lifestyle habits and disease prevention. 

Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets is also educating its shoppers about the health benefits of seafood consumption. The 1,068-store chain recently enlisted the help of local dietitians to “cover the myths and facts about seafood consumption and the risk/benefit analysis,” says Publix spokesperson Maria Brous. “We have conducted two sessions to date, and we are working to schedule two additional sessions. We also discuss sustainability during these sessions,” Brous says.

Publix also touts health benefits related to seafood consumption, along with recipes, in its weekly circular and in its Family Style and Greenwise magazines for shoppers. “We are also updating our current Guide to Seafood brochures, which will include the benefits of seafood,” Brous says.

Talking about the health benefits of fish while demoing it in stores is still one of the best ways to communicate with shoppers, says Steven Johnson, grocerant guru with foodservice consulting firm Foodservice Solutions. “Because people don’t know how to cook fish and they don’t want the smell in their house, there is a great opportunity for retailers [through demoing],” Johnson says.

Grocers should also present seafood as part of an entire meal. “Retailers can have a picture of the fish, rice and vegetables, and show how pretty the plate is, along with the calories,” Johnson says. To that end, retailers can utilize the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines, which recommend that each meal include an item from each food group and suggests Americans eat seafood twice a week.

Grocers can present actual meals, with literature and the MyPlate icon, explaining the benefits of lean proteins such as fish. One Hy-Vee store creates healthful dishes, including seafood, and presents them as a plated meal. 

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla. 

April 2013 - SeaFood Business    

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