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Point of View: Cooking message needs to return

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Evie Hansen
July 01, 2007

The seafood industry has its message all bass-ackwards. With all of the media attention on contaminants in seafood and sustainability it seems that the industry focus lately has been forced to diverge its message. Retailers are more worried about where a fish is from and what could be in it, and less concerned about telling the consumer how to cook fish and shellfish to increase seafood sales.

There are many historical examples of recipes landing seafood on the table. In the early days of surimi seafood, the favorite recipe was crab salad, consisting of iceberg lettuce and mayo. That evolved into today's delicious and varied deli salads and dips. When orange roughy first arrived in the United States in the early '80s, a major retailer shipped a box of frozen fillets to all of its stores. Unfortunately, neither the store employees nor consumers knew it was coming or what to do with it. A desperate meat manager developed a brilliant recipe using orange juice, ginger and soy sauce. His recipe, Á La Orange Roughy, boosted sales and made him the company hero. More recently, the May issue of People had an interview with "Deadliest Catch" brothers Sig and Edgar Hansen and nearly half of the article was devoted to their favorite crab recipes.

Once customers are provided with a seafood recipe, it opens up a whole new culinary world. They'll soon realize that cooking chatter is everywhere, from the Food Network to cookbooks to culinary blogs. Sometimes customers just need a guiding hand to realize how much culinary information is readily available to them. Today's consumer recipes have to be healthful and quick, and fish and shellfish fulfill both of those niches.

To keep customer service at a premium level, teach sales associates cooking techniques along with the omega-3 message. Schnucks Markets in St. Louis held a hands-on seafood cooking seminar for customers for the first time this May.

During the seminar, two underutilized cooking styles were taught: poaching and steaming. An informal survey showed that 95 percent of the participants were unfamiliar with poaching (simmering in seasoned liquid). Both techniques offer colorful one-pot meals as well as quick and healthful choices, especially for the one-fourth of all Americans who cook for one person. Pam Malone, seafood category manager, was so pleased with the enthusiastic feedback that she is eagerly scheduling it again in 2008.

Recipe testimonials can inspire consumer experimentation and confidence. Publish your customers' and associates' favorite recipes in point-of-sale materials with the author's name, picture, personal tips and hints and recipes. This is an easy marketing strategy that can be put anywhere: recipe cards, chalkboards, Web sites, brochures, e-mails and menus.

Don't forget, even though production method, source, and sustainability are important, if the consumer doesn't know how to cook seafood, it won't budge from the seafood case.


Evie Hansen, founder of National Seafood Educators, is author of "Seafood: Omega-3's for Healthy Living" and conducts seafood training seminars nationwide


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