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What's in Store: The demo does it
Retailers find success with in-store educational opportunities
By Christine Blank
September 01, 2009
Fall is a great time to think about seasonal cooking classes
and events that not only educate shoppers but boost sales of a
featured product. Back-to-school time is a great opportunity to
offer culinary presentations, because many families return to a
regular schedule of eating dinner together during the school
Many grocers have found that cooking demonstrations,
truckload sales, seasonal seafood promotions and other events
heighten their customers' understanding of the protein. These
events also can get shoppers more excited about supermarkets'
fresh seafood departments, which experienced only a 0.1 percent
sales increase in 2008, according to research and consulting
firm The Perishables Group.
This April, Heinen's Fine Foods, a 17-store chain based in
Warrensville Heights, Ohio, brought back seafood-cooking
demonstrations that had boosted sales in the past. For the past
few months, all of its stores have been holding cooking demos
two days a week from 4 to 7 p.m., as well as a six-hour demo
during the weekend.
"At the corporate level, we pick a feature of the week, then
we put the talking points about that particular seafood on a
half sheet of paper, then put a recipe on the other half," says
Marty Gaul, Heinen's seafood buyer and merchandiser.
The resulting flyer, which shoppers can take home, also
lists the retail price of the seafood item, the portion size
and the cost per portion. "People always think fish is so
expensive, but when you have a 4-ounce or 6-ounce portion, it
takes the retail down to $5 per portion [in some cases]," says
Heinen's recipes are meant to be easy for shoppers to
prepare at home, and have included Baked Bay Scallops, Baked
Ruby Red Trout and Panko-Crusted Baked Alaskan Cod. As
expected, the cooking and educational demos - held by that
store's seafood department staff - have boosted sales of the
"We have seen a dramatic rise in our seafood sales. Scallops
have done well, and the salmon is always a hit," says Gaul.
Heinen's seafood sales team has also benefited from the
cooking demonstrations. "The seafood team gets an education by
doing this, but customers and everybody can see how easy it is
to prepare," says Gaul.
Educating shoppers about the characteristics and benefits of
premium items such as crab and sustainable seafood have proven
more effective than simply discounting prices, many retailers
"We had a seafood truckload sale this summer, and we did it
dramatically different [than normal]," says Boyd Oase, meat and
seafood director for the nine-store Kowalski's Markets based in
Woodbury, Minn. "We didn't focus on the price point of items,
as much as we did on quality."
For its one-store, one-day, semi-truck sale in late June,
Kowalski's worked with seafood supplier The Plitt Co. The
Chicago company brought in a chef to cook fresh fish and crab,
and talk to shoppers about preparing the mahimahi, wild salmon,
farmed salmon, tilapia, king crab, snow crab and other
"It stayed in line with what we do with seafood. It is not
just based on price point; rather, we provide an open exchange
about pricing, how to cook it and where it comes from," says
The event was promoted via in-store posters and bag
stuffers, and Oase had projected that the truckload sale would
result in between $8,000 and $10,000 in fresh seafood sales.
Because of inclement weather during the one-day sale, the
truckload sale produced around $5,000 in total sales.
Kowalski's is focused on helping its shoppers cook seafood
at home in other ways, too. The retailer sponsors a "Cooking
for Dad" video series on its Web site, www.kowalskis.com, in
which visitors can click to view instructional videos on
preparing all types of meals.
For retailers touting sustainable seafood, shoppers tend to
have a lot of questions about which species are sustainable and
what makes them so. Expert speakers, cooking demonstrations and
recipes are proving to be effective ways to answer customers'
questions and get them to try new types of fish.
The nine-store certified-organic grocery co-op PCC Natural
Markets, based in Seattle, promotes sustainable seafood through
brochures, its Sustainable Seafood Guide, sampling events and
"Last May, at the height of halibut season, we sold out
after a sampling event," says Russ Ruby, director of
merchandising for PCC.
In addition, PCC stores will demonstrate several seafood
recipes during its "PCC Cooks" in-store cooking classes this
fall. "A variety of our seafood will be featured in several
classes, including Taste of Australia (shrimp), Foods and Wines
of Provence (mussels) and Food and Mood (black cod). Also, we
offer a special class called 'Simply Seafood,' which gives
shoppers tips on how to select, handle and cook many kinds of
seafood," says Ruby.
Like other seafood retailers, PCC's in-store seafood events
are advertised on its Web site, www.pccnaturalmarkets.com, and
several seafood recipes are provided for shoppers.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary,