« June 2009 Table of Contents
What's in Store: Prepared interest peaks
Retailers, suppliers develop new RTC seafood items
By Christine Blank
June 01, 2009
While customers at chain supermarkets seem to be avoiding
the higher-priced protein during the recession [see Top Story,
page 16], some upscale independent retailers are finding their
customers are cooking seafood more at home rather than eating
out in restaurants. This change in behavior bodes well for
sales of prepared, ready-to-cook seafood items.
Prepared seafood recipes by retailers and seafood suppliers
are also fueling this trend. Crabmeat-stuffed fish, salmon
burgers, new flavors of crusted fish, fish with unique Asian
marinades, crab cakes and seafood kabobs are some of the
popular items being offered.
"With the lag in the restaurant business, we find that
people are coming to us for their gourmet meals. They are
looking for restaurant-quality fish or even fresh fish to take
home," says Marty Gaul, seafood buyer and merchandiser for
Heinen's Fine Foods, a 17-store chain based in Warrensville
Heights, Ohio. Heinen's prepared salmon burgers are selling
very well, and the retailer recently introduced five varieties
of ready-to-cook tilapia burgers, including Tropical Mango,
Ginger Soy, Thai and Santa Fe.
Heinen's Stuffed Salmon Mignon Pinwheels are also popular,
along with its Pecan-Crusted Tilapia and Potato-Crusted Orange
Roughy. "It seems that people are in such a hurry that they
want to take it home and bake it," says Gaul.
"Anything prepared is doing well," agrees Joe Lane, store
manager and seafood director at the one-store Casey's Market in
Western Springs, Ill. "All we have to do is put a marinade on
it, and we can sell anything."
In addition to offering two or three varieties of marinated
fish a week, Casey's is also realizing sales success with
prepared items added this year; breaded and battered perch,
breaded cod and halibut, salmon burgers, lobster and crab
ravioli, lobster bisque and clam chowder. Casey's salmon
burgers retail for $5.98 for two burgers, and its breaded cod
and halibut items are priced at $6.98 per 12-ounce package.
"All the new stuff has been flying out of here, especially
the battered and breaded perches. In the Midwest, we love
perch," says Lane. Adding the new prepared items and
maintaining good prices on fresh seafood contributed to a 4 to
5 percent increase in seafood department sales at Casey's
Market in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the same time
last year, says Lane.
Nationwide, seafood department sales declined by 1.7 percent
for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 28, according to the Perishables
Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. However, prepared
seafood sales rose 1.4 percent during the same time period.
Prepared seafood products also represented a higher average
retail growth - 6.7 percent, compared to 4.3 percent average
retail growth for fresh seafood during the same time
Prepared seafood now represents 15.4 percent of all seafood
department sales, according to the Perishables Group.
United Supermarkets, a chain of nearly 50 stores with
headquarters in Lubbock, Texas, finds that breaded items are
selling especially well in its United stores and upscale Market
"We cut down on the number of fresh fillets and put in more
grab-and-go items. We're doing well with crusted items, such as
Potato-Crusted Cod, Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia and
Mediterranean-Crusted Salmon," says Scott Nettles, director of
meat and seafood for United Supermarkets. Instead of selling
the prepared items by the pound, United has boosted profits by
selling 5.5-ounce portions for $2.50 to $3 each.
United also provides more prepared seafood items and lowers
its fresh volume during the middle of the week, when shoppers
seem to be more in a rush than on the weekends, says Nettles.
"[Prepared items] are quick, easy and fast, when shoppers don't
have time to fire up the grill or prepare a big meal," says
At Casey's Market, seafood staff repackages some prepared
items from The Plitt Co. of Chicago and Fortune Fish Co. of
Bensenville, Ill., and sells them in the freezer cases. While
it also offers several varieties of prepared seafood items in
the refrigerated case, frozen items have helped the retailer
reduce shrink in the fresh department, says Lane.
Prepared items developed by Casey's chefs that are selling
well include marinated salmon, crab cakes and crab-stuffed
mushroom caps, adds Lane.
Even though consumers are more interested in
restaurant-quality prepared foods, seafood merchandisers are
not ignoring their fresh departments. In fact, some retailers
have expanded their fresh seafood selection and are teaching
consumers how to prepare gourmet meals at home.
Heinen's, for example, plans to offer more seafood cooking
classes by knowledgeable chefs. "We did it about a year ago in
three stores, and it was a huge success. We're going to start
it up again…in all our stores," says Gaul.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary,