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Case Study: Retailers help consumers plan seafood purchases
Some chains turn to online circulars to replace the traditional newpaper inserts
By Lisa Duchene
July 01, 2006
At the grocery seafood counter, a colorful display of fresh,
beautiful whole fish, fillets and shellfish is essential for
capturing the attention of passing shoppers. But marketing to
consumers before they enter the store is just as important as
the in-store display, since many consumers plan their purchases
long before laying eyes on the seafood department.
Many shoppers want to buy and eat their fresh fish on the
same day, and an out-of-store marketing vehicle like a
newspaper insert helps them schedule seafood meals. Nearly
two-thirds of seafood shoppers plan their purchases before they
arrive at the store, more than for other perishables, according
to The Perishables Group, a Chicago consumer research firm that
interviewed 250 shoppers at an East Coast grocery chain one
week in March.
"Out-of-store messages are potentially more important for
seafood," says Steve Lutz, Perishables Group executive VP. "You
could probably argue there is an inverse relationship: As you
move up the scale on items that have lower penetration levels
and lower consumer knowledge, the importance of that advance
information really grows."
About half of all grocery shoppers make a shopping list
before going to the store, according to the Food Marketing
Institute's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2006 report.
Non-working women and older shoppers are more likely to make a
list, while working women are less likely to, says Todd
Hultquist, FMI spokesman.
Worried about high gas prices, American grocery shoppers are
economizing. They spend more time planning their shopping,
making fewer trips to the store and using coupons, reports FMI.
Prior to the 2005-06 gasoline woes, coupon usage was declining,
and more shoppers, particularly in two-income households, were
planning dinners on the fly, says Hultquist.
The weekly circular of promoted or on-sale products remains
retailers' primary vehicle for reaching consumers outside the
store. One-third of consumers look for grocery specials in the
newspaper circular, says FMI.
While 90 percent of supermarket chains use their Web sites
to market their stores, only 6 percent of consumers say they
look online for store specials, says FMI.
The Kroger-owned Quality Food Center in Seattle, like many
grocery chains, posts its weekly flyer online at
www.qfconline.com and tailors it to each store. During late
April, visitors to the QFC Web site saw whole, cooked Dungeness
crabs on sale at the Mercer Island store for $3.99 per pound.
Alaska sockeye fillets were $9.99 per pound, and fresh red
snapper fillets were $5.99 per pound. Consumers can click on a
button to create a shopping list and add selected seafood items
Wegmans, a 70-store Northeast chain, posts a weekly online
flyer at www.wegmans.com for each of its stores and often
includes a seafood recipe. The company also goes beyond the
flyer and mails customers a monthly glossy magazine of meal
ideas called "menu."
Haggen, in Bellingham, Wash., owner of 32 supermarkets in
Washington and Oregon, also posts an attractive online flyer.
In late April, it promoted Alaska halibut for $9.98 per pound
and ahi tuna steak for $7.99 per pound.
Haggen's site, www.haggen.com, allows the shopper to click
on the halibut or tuna steak to add it to a shopping list.
Tom Sargent, Haggen's director of meat and seafood,
estimates that 75 percent of his seafood business is planned
purchases, while 25 percent is bought on impulse.
Shoppers armed with a list have an idea of how much fish
they want to buy and how much they want to spend for it, says
"The people who buy for health-conscious reasons say, 'I
want to buy seafood. I'll see what's fresh,'" she adds.
When those customers reach the counter, impulse takes over
and determines which product they will buy.
"That's when we win the battle with a display of, say,
salmon fillets, tuna fillets or swordfish and a knowledgeable
person behind the counter," notes Sargent.
An increasing percentage of seafood shoppers may buy on
impulse, but most plan, says Sargent.
"My gut feeling is that, in today's business climate, with
the cost of gas and everything, I believe [consumers] are
making a list and trying to buy as close to it as possible, and
making it one-stop shopping," says Sargent.
One seafood merchandiser at a Midwest supermarket chain sees
the opposite: Most folks shop every few days, often arriving at
the store in need of a dinner plan.
"The biggest thing people are after today is freshness,"
says the Midwest grocer, "so one way of getting at freshness is
to shop every day."
When those frequent shoppers visit the seafood department,
they often find out what seafood is in season, which helps them
plan their seafood purchases for the weekend around a quality
product like wild salmon.
"We create an event around this really good fish that's only
here this weekend. That does bring people back. There's no
doubt about it," says the Midwest grocer.
That's smart marketing, says Kevin Coupe, chief content
editor for MorningNewsBeat.com, a daily grocery e-newsletter.
By becoming a seafood resource for consumers, a store helps
them plan seafood purchases, says Coupe.
Some grocery chains reach beyond the circular.
Eighteen months ago, Wild Oats, the 113-store natural-foods
chain in Boulder, Colo., changed marketing strategies from a
to we ekly "wild mail" e-mails to 150,000
customers nationwide and a monthly direct-mail piece to 2
Circulars tend to be price-focused, while Wild Oats' message
is more about quality, seasonality and wholesomeness, says
Sonja Tuitele, company spokeswoman.
"We believe it's effective," she says.
Festival Foods, a six-store upscale chain in the
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., market with a seventh store
opening in October, wants to be ahead of the technology curve,
says spokeswoman Bonnie Harris.
The chain's e-mail newsletters include online coupons, often
for fresh, in-season seafood.
"Festival Foods is able to alert shoppers when the seafood
will be in the store. So shoppers can plan for their seafood
meals ahead of time," says Harris.
Company President Lauri Youngquist is working on a monthly
podcast and a blog for foodies and customers at
www.festivalfoods.net, both of which will include information
on seafood issues like mercury, says Harris.
Grocers increasingly harness technology to help consumers
plan their seafood purchases, and online flyers are an
opportunity worth developing.
SFlb Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,