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What's in Store: Food Lion spearheads a seafood shift

Food Lion expands seafood departments in overall turnaround effort

The sustainability message is evident throughout the aisles at Food Lion stores.  - Photo courtesy of Food Lion
By Christine Blank
May 01, 2014

Delhaize America-owned Food Lion has not exactly been revered as a leader in fresh seafood retailing. Traditionally, the Salisbury, N.C.-based chain of 1,100 stores sported very small fresh seafood sections and its frozen and canned seafood sets were limited. The chain’s overall neglect of its perishable categories, along with other operational issues, led Delhaize to shut down 113 underperforming Food Lion stores in 2012.

However, the company is now banking on an expanded selection of fresh and frozen seafood as well as a new sustainability program to turn around sales and consumer perception. These upgraded seafood initiatives dovetail with the recent unveiling of its new “easy, fresh and affordable” store format, which features smaller stores, everyday low pricing, “grab and go” foods, daily dinner deals and an expanded gluten-free foods section.

To fit in with the new retailing philosophy, Food Lion doubled frozen seafood space in nearly 100 of its stores in early March. 

“We have used that space to add a variety of convenient meal solutions and expanded offerings in our current product categories,” says Josanna Busby, Food Lion seafood category manager. “We believe our expanded frozen assortment will be one area where our customers will experience more choices at purchasing those sustainable seafood products they want the most.”

Frozen seafood items added include meal solutions such as marinated salmon and gluten-free seafood, along with line extensions of popular products like mussels and clams.

In the supermarket chain’s fresh seafood department, Food Lion has added value-added seafood items, but has not increased space for fresh product. 

“We have doubled our [value-added] assortment with items like marinated salmon and tilapia. Customers should expect more variety as we continue to refine our sustainable seafood offerings,” Busby says.

While Food Lion has focused on purchasing sustainable seafood since 2012, its new policy, also announced in March, “helps us to hold our suppliers accountable for selling us only sustainable seafood, so our customers can feel confident they are purchasing quality products that will be around for generations to come,” Busby says.

Similar to its sister chain, Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Bros., Food Lion’s policy requires all of its fresh, frozen and canned seafood suppliers to provide full traceability. The wild seafood Food Lion purchases must come from fisheries that are “governed by credible, enforceable and science-based management plans that respect the amount of harvest to ensure seafood populations will continue to be healthy in the future,” according to a Food Lion statement.

In addition, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute will confirm fisheries that supply Food Lion’s seafood are responsibly managed. Plus, the new policy states that farmed seafood must be certified and reviewed to “ensure that production does not harm communities, workers, the environment or human health,” the statement says.

Notably, Food Lion’s sustainable seafood policy is more comprehensive than most U.S. supermarket chains policies because it “includes all seafood products across the store in fresh, frozen and canned goods,” Busby says. “It is the widest range of products among most U.S. grocery retailers. In addition to sustainability, all of Food Lion’s seafood products are fully traceable from the port of landing or farm.”

Food Lion communicates the policy with its shoppers via flyers and in-store signage in all sections. 

The retailer’s seafood sustainability efforts are a smart marketing move, says Jim Hertel, managing partner at retail consulting firm Willard Bishop. “There is a significant minority (about 20 percent) of shoppers who have adopted a lifestyle of health and sustainability. These consumers will make purchasing decisions based on their values, and they crave information and transparency before they buy.”

It remains to be seen whether Food Lion’s seafood initiatives and “easy, fresh and affordable” format will pay off for the chain over the long term, but the retailer is now keeping pace with grocery retailing trends. Walmart, for example, is rolling out smaller-format stores featuring affordable and convenient foods across the nation, and other supermarket chains have launched scaled-down versions of their traditional stores.

Plus, communicating a sustainable seafood policy with shoppers led to increased fresh and frozen seafood sales for leading retailers like Safeway, Wegmans and Whole Foods Market. 

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.    

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