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What's in Store: Back to school

Educating customers helps Schnucks sell seafood

By Christine Blank
April 01, 2010

Showcasing the numerous ways that seafood can be prepared in a foodie-type atmosphere is the key to seafood sales for Schnucks, a chain of 106 grocery stores based in St. Louis. Over the past year, the retailer has placed more emphasis on presenting high-end food in its new stores and on teaching customers how to prepare that food at home.

For example, its newest store in Des Peres, Mo., which opened last fall, features Shnucks' first cooking school as well as the Fresco Island open-grill area with counter seating. Cooked-to-order seafood is a prominent feature of the Fresco Island menu, which also features Mediterranean fare and pizza.

The restaurant-quality meals are designed to be affordable, says Paul Simon, a spokesperson for Schnucks. For example, the grill's farmed Atlantic salmon dish with pecan-panko breading is $5.99, while Fish and Chips with house-made tartar sauce sells for $6.49 and Fresh Calamari with Lemon Aioli for $5.99.

"We offer three to four rotating fresh-seafood items daily, prepared in a variety of styles," says Melissa Bunch, director of deli and food bars. The most popular seafood items have been sea scallops, salmon, fish and chips and calamari, she adds.

In addition, the professionally trained Fresco Island chefs let customers know that the meals they are enjoying are available in the store's seafood department, says Steve Disko, director of seafood.

Schnucks' Des Peres unit has the ambience of a gourmet store with new lighting, upgraded décor and wider aisles than other Schnucks locations. Other in-store features designed to appeal to foodies include a 
cheese room with wine displays, more than 1,500 wine selections throughout the store, an aged-beef cooler and a walk-in "beer cave" cooler.

Meanwhile, a cooking school was added to the 74,000-square-foot Des Peres store to help shoppers learn how to prepare all types of meals, including those with seafood.

Daily classes in March included a "Lunch and Learn South of the Border" class, featuring Fish Tacos with Cilantro Cream, and a "Living Well: Menus for a Healthy Heart" class that showed shoppers how to prepare Grouper with Tomato-Olive Sauce.

The 760-square-foot "Schnucks Cooks" cooking school is unique to the Des Peres store, and company executives are considering expanding the school to other locations in the future, according to Simon.

Schnucks carries the culinary theme throughout all of its stores with its "Schnucks Cooks" demonstration stations, where store associates show shoppers how 
to prepare seafood meals and send them home with four-color recipe cards.

"Our customers are sometimes afraid to cook the items that are not familiar to them. Our coaches, as we call them, show our customers, step by step, how easy it is to make right before their eyes," says Disko.

In addition, seafood recipes and photos are regularly featured in the retailer's culinary magazine, Schnucks Cooks.

All Schnucks locations can also bake or grill customers' fish to order, a custom service that is increasing in popularity.

"Some of our new customers are amazed that we even offer such a service and that we have a variety of rubs and marinades we will apply at no charge," says Disko.

Seafood also plays a primary role at a recently opened Schnucks concept called Culinaria. The 21,000-square-foot store in downtown St. Louis features numerous prepared foods cooked fresh daily, a grilling station, a full-service meat and seafood department and a premium line of Culinaria-branded products. The eatery is popular around lunchtime with office workers in surrounding buildings, says Simon.


Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.




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