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Processing & Services: Retail weighing

Increased retail pressures push the need to find the right scale

By Lauren Kramer
October 01, 2007

Because most seafood species are sold by the pound, a scale is an essential component of all retail seafood environments. The appliance's accuracy and ability to multi-task can save retailers time and money. A malfunctioning scale or product that's weighed improperly by an employee means you could be charging too much - or not enough - for your retail seafood products.

There are many scale options on the market these days, some more high-tech than others. But before you start shopping, it is imperative to consider a few questions.

What level of accuracy do you require when weighing seafood? This will determine the scale resolution, or the smallest weight a scale can display. What is the greatest weight you will need to place on the scale at any one time? The answer to this question will determine the scale capacity you need. How wet is your store? It makes sense to purchase a scale that can withstand a wet environment if this applies to yours, as some will rust and stop working when exposed to water. Finally, choose a scale that is certified Legal For Trade, a requirement for scales almost everywhere.

The organization that certifies scales Legal For Trade is the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which aims to promote uniformity in U.S. weights-and-measures laws, regulations and standards to achieve equity between buyers and sellers in the marketplace.

To be certified Legal For Trade, a scale manufacturer must submit its product to the National Type Evaluation Program, which subjects it to various tests.

"If [the scale] conforms, they issue it a certificate of conformance," explains Stein Carlsen, product manager at A&D Weighing in San Jose, Calif.

"If you want to design a scale for Legal For Trade status, you have to go through this program. The scale must be compliant with NIST handbook 44 requirements. If it's not, you're not allowed to use it in a commercial application, and the consequences of non-compliance are typically fines to the retailer in the range of $500 to $1,000."

At Cataumet Fish in Cataumet, Mass., owner Peter Fisher's biggest challenge was his staff's ability to accurately gauge seafood weight to order.

"We cut our seafood according to our customers' requests, and it's a very difficult thing to do," he confesses. One customer, Sam Raymond, noticed Fisher's summer college staff struggle to accurately estimate the weight of seafood and determined there must be a better way to do it.

"It festered in his mind for years until he came up with Precision Cut," says Fisher. Raymond created a device that attaches to a scale, putting a static platform in line with the scale's weighing platform. "There is a narrow gap between the two platforms, and you take the cut of seafood and slide it across the scale until you have the exact amount you want," explains Anker Berg-Sonne, VP at Precision Cut. "Our device lets the person making the cut understand exactly where to cut it, according to price or weight."

The Stowe, Mass., company is working hard to ensure the device will work with all scales, and last month released a new model that is more versatile than its predecessor. Made from stainless steel, the attachment has no moving parts and sells for $150.

"Most of the technology involved in our device is in ensuring that it's a solid attachment to the scale, so it can't move," says Berg-Sonne.

The majority of buyers have been small seafood retailers who process their own fish like Cataumet Fish, which has encountered sim ilar problems when cutting fillets into particular sizes. Fisher, for one, says Precision Cut is well worth the price.

"It's a tool to train new employees how to cut fish and give them an idea what the weight of a particular piece of fish looks like," he says. "If you are trying to be precise as far as the weight of the fish is concerned, this is a great device, and it pays for itself in terms of the waste in the stakes. I'd recommend it to any retail or wholesale establishment that cuts to order."

A&D Weighing has three scales appropriate for seafood retailers, depending on their particular needs. The SF/SG series, which retails for between $455 and $495, is the company's only retail price-computing scale. That means it will calculate and display the price of whatever is being weighed, based on its price per pound, with a 66-pound capacity.

Another model, the HLWP, has a 6.6-pound capacity, retails for $379 and is better suited for weighing smaller items such as shrimp and scallops. "This one is designed for use in wet environments and is the only submersible portion-control scale on the market," says Stein Carlsen, A&D company spokesperson. "Think about it - you have fish oils, skin, sauce and smelly fish parts on your scale, so you might want to clean it! With this digital scale, you can just dunk it in the sink."

The company's third retail model, SKWP, is designed for weighing heavier portions up to 44 pounds, such as crabs and fillets. "It can be washed down, but not submerged," says Carlsen, adding that it retails for $389.

At Yamato Corp. in Colorado Springs, Colo., the company's PPC-200W scale is certified Legal For Trade and has full wash-
down capabilities.

"It's ideal for small retail environments as well as the packaging and processing areas," says Prague Mehta, national sales manager. "What's nice is that the footprint of the scale is pretty small - just a 9-inch by 9-inch stainless-steel platform with an LDC display. It's small, but it packs a lot of punch for what it can do."

The PPC-200W, which costs $495, can weigh up to 40 pounds of seafood and is fully sealed, portable and battery operated. "It also has RS232 capability, where you can install a card and connect it to a printer or label printer," says Mehta. "But the simplicity of this scale has appeal. Right out of the box, you put in the batteries and you're good to go. It doesn't have any complex PLUs that you have to deal with."

Based in North Kingstown, R.I., MTI Weigh Systems offers two retail scale models, both of which can weigh up to 60 pounds: The CAS S2000 and the S2000 Junior, of which the latter was just released this year. "These are price computing scales where you weigh an item and add memory, so the scale will recall the cost of a particular item," says Sheryl Benn, sales associate.

Both models come with a wet cover and a fish platter, but while the S2000 has an AC adaptor and costs $550, the junior model, which retails for $395, comes with a rechargeable battery.

"The advantage of the S2000Jr is that it is portable, allowing a seafood retailer to sell their products on the docks or at a seafood festival," Benn explains. "The S2000Jr is an upgraded version of the S2000, based on customers' needs and changes in the economy." 

John Cooley, owner of Tuckerton Bait and Tackle in Tuckerton, N.J., has been using the S2000 for the past two years. "It's a great electrical scale, I really like it," he says. "But I also need a hanging scale, because some of the fish I need to weigh are too heavy for the S2000."

In a field facing increased competition, rising wholesale seafood prices and shrinking profit margins, seafood retailers both big and small need to research and find the right scale for their operation.

 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia

 

 

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