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What's in Store: Ringing in the cheer

Retailers welcome sales uptick around holiday items

By Christine Blank
December 01, 2009

Grocers plan to play up fresh seafood this winter - including 2010 Super Bowl celebrations - as consumers gather and cook at home this holiday season.

Despite a rough fourth quarter in 2008 that extended well into 2009, seafood sales were on the upswing by the fourth quarter. As a result, many retailers and consultants are optimistic about fresh seafood sales through Christmas, New Year's and into early 2010.

"We expect to see strong seafood sales this holiday season, as customers continue the shift from restaurants to cooking at home," says Jennifer Speck, a spokesperson for Food Lion and Bloom, based in Salisbury, N.C.

"The farther we move into 2009, the better the numbers look for seafood. It appears that consumers are coming back, and indictors show that retailers are promoting and consumers are responding," says Steve Lutz, executive VP of consulting firm The Perishables Group in Chicago. For example, for the four weeks of September, supermarket seafood sales rose 9 percent compared to September 2008, 
according to Lutz.

In addition, major U.S. grocery chains tell SeaFood Business they plan to increase or maintain their fresh seafood promotions throughout the winter holiday season and into the new year.

"Christmas is a special time for family, and traditional seafood items will always be a part of that celebration," says Joe D'Alessandro, senior director of seafood merchandising for the 435-store Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. chain. As a result, A&P's Pathmark stores are promoting shrimp, squid, cod, octopus, conch, eels, king crab, snow crab, smelts, lobster tails, mussels and clams.

Pathmark is aggressively promoting 2-pound bags of shrimp, shrimp rings and shrimp platters, according to D'Alessandro. "We will highlight shrimp rings that range from $5 to $40, as well as a wide variety of store-made platters that range from small, [priced] at $29.99, to large, at $79.99," says D'Alessandro.

Most grocers are focusing on shrimp promotions this season, based on the shellfish's past success in party platters and for home cooking.

"During the first quarter of 2009, shrimp was far and way the single-largest item within seafood. It generated around 25 percent of all seafood dollars," says Lutz. In addition, around 33 percent of all grocers' seafood promotional dollars were devoted to shrimp in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Retailers spent more on promoting shrimp, lobster and crab in the fourth quarter of last year, and less on tilapia, salmon and other fish, demonstrating a real focus on identifying the key seafood value opportunities to pass on low-priced items to consumers. "It is a trend that we expect to continue into this holiday season," says Lutz.

Seafood products that represent a better value will be promoted more throughout the holidays, says Tom DeMott, COO of Encore Associates, a San Ramon, Calif., retail research and consulting firm.

The good news for consumers is that shrimp, lobster and crab have been priced lower throughout 2009 so they will likely continue to be sold at competitive prices during the holidays, DeMott added.

"We plan to focus more on low-price items, as well products that our customers are familiar with and know how to prepare. [These include] cooked and raw shrimp, snow crab clusters and several varieties of fish, including tilapia, cod and catfish," says Food Lion's Speck.

During the winter holidays and leading up to the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, Food Lion's 1,155 stores will focus on shrimp party trays, crab cakes, stuffed clams and scallops. The company's 65 Bloom stores, meanwhile, will feature promotions on fresh shellfish, including live lobster and lobster tails for New Year's. In-shell oysters, topneck clams and Eastern mussels will also be promoted throughout the holidays and into the new year, says Speck.

"We have found that weekly promotions featuring shellfish, shrimp and crab legs have been our most successful for the holidays," Speck adds.

Publix Supermarkets, a chain of more than 1,000 stores based in Lakeland, Fla., plans to focus on some of its most popular seafood species during the holidays, including shrimp, king crab and snow crab. Shrimp rings will 
be featured, along with upscale seafood platters of shellfish claws, jumbo shrimp and seafood salads, according to Maria Brous, a Publix spokesperson.

At the same time, Publix merchandisers are focusing on several other types of seafood throughout the holidays. "The holidays also represent a time where we sell some less traditional items, due to the Italian Feast of Seven Fishes [on Christmas Eve]. We will sell eels, smelts and salted cod," Brous says.

Throughout December, Publix circulars will feature seafood platters, and will also highlight New Year's meals featuring seafood appetizers. In January, the retailer's marketing materials will highlight seafood and its health benefits as well as its in-store Aprons cooking events.

Pathmark, meanwhile, plans to promote shrimp, seafood dips, clams, crab claws, crab cakes, crabmeat and appetizers leading up to the Super Bowl.

Creating events around seafood - not just lowering prices - will be one of the best ways to attract consumers during the 2009-2010 holiday season, says Norris Bernstein, a consumer goods marketing consultant in Long Beach, Calif.

"It isn't all about price; it is also about value. Value is putting together something that makes the customer sit up and take notice," says Bernstein.

Retailers and manufacturers should work together to create a holiday party or event, centered around a group of products. "Get your [seafood] manufacturers to bring in other people, such as produce suppliers and cocktail sauce manufacturers. Then, retailers are putting together a whole party solution. It can be based around iced seafood and be really attractive," says Bernstein.

Another successful holiday event, according to Bernstein, is tying one of the supermarkets' charitable causes together with a seafood promotion. "It could be, for every pound of shrimp sold, we are raising a dollar for this cause," says Bernstein.

Whether shoppers are visiting stores for seafood events or sales this holiday season, many retailers and consultants maintain a positive outlook.

"They [consumers] are going to spend more than last year, when everyone was in shock; but we are not going to see the numbers that we saw a year or two before that," says DeMott.


Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake 
Mary, Fla.


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