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Editor's Note: Service argument continues

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Fiona Robinson, Editor in Chief
March 01, 2009

The self-service vs. full-service seafood debate has gone on for years. Retailers that support self-service tout the labor and space savings, as well as the reduced shrink. On the flip side, full-service counters offer the one-on-one interaction with knowledgeable staff that is often needed to sell seafood.

The topic resurfaced with the late-2007 rollout of Tesco's Fresh & Easy small-format supermarket. Associate Editor Steven Hedlund writes about the grand plans for the mini concept in this issue's Top Story, "Small Wonder," which starts on page 26. The British retail giant has high hopes for the little grab-and-go store: 122 sites in the Southwest have been located and the company has pledged $2 billion for its U.S. expansion, which reportedly included a Chicago opening shortly before press time.

While the format may help a lot of time-starved consumers, the jury is out on whether it is good news for seafood sales. Retailers live by the "location, location, location" mantra, but the current real estate choice in the desert Southwest, which is not exactly known for its seafood consumers, doesn't bode well for seafood. The results might be different if the stores were in a seafood-centric location like the Pacific Northwest or New England, where consumers don't need to be sold on the protein and probably know a frozen fillet may be better than a slacked-out "fresh" one. Depending upon its location in the 'burbs, seafood may stand a better chance in markets such as Chicago.

My experience with self-service seafood has never been good. Two Maine supermarket chains have self-service seafood and I've never seen a customer purchase anything but surimi seafood. I have no doubt the department is nothing but shrink for both chains. Some retailers like Costco have a successful self-service seafood department, but not every chain can duplicate Costco's buying program to 
reduce shrink and make a profit. Tesco will find the right fit for seafood in its concept, or else pull 
it out altogether.



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