« June 2007 Table of Contents
Case Study: Yoke’s rehabs service seafood
Pier 39 helps define Fresh Market concept
By Lisa Duchene
June 01, 2007
Not long ago, the meat director at a small eastern
Washington supermarket chain wanted to ditch its seafood
department altogether and use the space to make money on
That was seven years ago. Now, Yoke's, with 13 stores in
Washington and Idaho, is making money on seafood. Winter
holiday sales climbed 24 percent from 2005 to 2006, says Ken
Chapin, meat and seafood director for Yoke's Fresh Market, with
headquarters in Spokane, Wash.
"When I saw the numbers I was shocked," says Chapin. "We had
such a good year in , I was hoping to just maintain. I
was tickled. It's great to see your payoff."
That payoff comes after several years of transforming Yoke's
seafood business from a low-priced nuisance to a full-service
department. The revamped department, branded as Pier 39, offers
customers 30 varieties of seafood, promotions and seafood
"We've just come a long way on our seafood," says Chapin.
"It's something I'm proud of when I walk in our stores.
[Seafood] has become a real focus."
The turnaround coincided with the rise of Wal-Mart as a
national supermarket force. As Wal-Mart gained ground
throughout the country, Yoke's decided it didn't have the
buying power to battle the retail giant on price.
So Yoke's Pac 'n Save - a low-price, big-box format where
customers could literally save a few additional pennies by
packing their own groceries - transformed into Yoke's Fresh
Market, a format focused on better quality, more variety,
improved service, competitive pricing - and an all-around
better seafood department.
In 2000, when the company decided to change formats, many
supermarkets in the Pacific Northwest seemed to be moving away
from seafood, says Chapin, so it saw an opportunity to become
the area's best seafood retailer.
Since then, the company has remodeled all 13 of its stores
in the region and built four new Fresh Market stores.
Gauging the private company's overall performance is
difficult since its stock is employee held. But Yoke's is in
"I think we're doing well," says Chapin. "I don't know where
we would be [without the change], but we continue to grow.
We've built a new store every year or remodeled one since
The typical seafood department offers a 24-foot service case
and 4-foot self-service case. About 80 percent of the seafood
The department has an open-market, well-lit, upscale design
featuring a 4-by-3-foot ice table tilted higher in the back and
angling the seafood display toward the passing customers, says
Matt Fitterer, branch manager for Pacific Seafood, a Clackamas,
Ore., distributor that supplies Yoke's.
The ice table serves as an attention-getting focal point,
often snagging customers as they walk by, giving the seafood
staff a chance to engage the customers in conversation about
seafood, says Fitterer.
Pacific Northwest favorites like Alaska salmon, king crab,
Dungeness crab, Pacific rockfish, cod and sole are popular
sellers among the eastern Washington customers. So is
Yoke's has also expanded its fresh assortment by adding
marlin, shark and tuna, when available. It carries basic
value-added items like marinated and stuffed fillets, and is
working to develop a broader assortment of value-added seafood
"I really think where it's going is that the consumer still
wants the homemade look and that homemade taste without the
homemade work, and that's what we're trying to provide," says
Yoke's promotes a perishable product on Fridays. Every five
to seven weeks, the store has a big seafood sale on "Fresh
Friday" promoting eight or nine seafood items with in-store and
radio advertising, says Fitterer.
To help take Yoke's seafood departments to the next level,
Chapin is working on a customer education program to tell the
story behind as many of the seafood products as possible. With
help from distributors Pacific Seafood and Ocean Beauty in
Seattle, which also supplies Yoke's, Chapin has asked each of
the producers to develop a 30-second video segment showing the
seafood as it is harvested. He plans to pull them all together
by summer and run the footage on 13-inch televisions located in
each store's seafood department.
It's a more technologically advanced way to tell the
products' stories. Chapin currently publishes one-page product
write-ups about how the fish was caught, its nutritional
benefits and a recipe idea. In mid-March, Yoke's featured
troll-caught Alaska king salmon as a good source of omega-3
fatty acids, and offered a recipe for lemon-garlic Alaska
Yoke's is also ensuring all of its safe handling and
traceability practices are ship-shape and consistently
The takeaway lesson, says Fitterer, is that investment in a
knowledgeable seafood staff pays off because the more it knows
about seafood, the better it is at selling it.
Distributors and suppliers are often eager to help a store
train its salespeople, he notes.
"A lot of people realize with seafood that there's money
there," says Fitterer. "You don't have to sell it cheap."
Just ask Chapin. Yoke's seafood prices are certainly
competitive, but price is no longer the sole focus, says
Chapin, the meat guy who no longer considers the real estate
devoted to seafood as wasted space.
"One of my biggest challenges was to really believe that we
could build a department that could do just what it's done," he
says. Once he realized beefing up the seafood department was a
way to stand out from the competition, Chapin never looked
"I really believe that when people think about seafood, they
think about us now," he says.
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,