« June 2006 Table of Contents
Case Study: Sweetbay delivers ultimate seafood department
Delhaize teaches seafood smarts as it converts Florida chain
By Lisa Duchene
June 01, 2006
Supermarket cashiers aren't known for offering
seafood-cooking advice, but that's exactly what one consumer
got recently at a Sweetbay Supermarket, Delhaize's new 30-store
chain on Florida's west coast. The customer was buying shark
for the first time. The cashier had just tried tempura-battered
shark in a store sampling and recommended it.
But the customer didn't have tempura batter in her cart. The
bagger ran off to find it and returned in time for the customer
to buy the batter and get cooking instructions from the
cashier, all without holding up the line, says Jim McWade,
Sweetbay's director of meat and seafood.
That story shows the passion Sweetbay employees have for
food and how well-trained they are in customer service and
product knowledge, he notes.
Sweetbay - named for a local species of magnolia tree -
emphasizes service and the variety, flavor and quality of
perishables as well as the range of shelf-stable grocery
"What's your favorite food?" is among the first questions on
a Sweetbay job application. Every associate is trained about
every department's products, including seafood, before they
start, says McWade.
"The people in the seafood department are very important,
but the rest of the store needs to understand what's going on
back there, too," he says.
Seafood has played a critical role in the
perishables-focused Sweetbay stores from the start, says
McWade: "We do seafood well and it's a very, very important
category for us."
Delhaize is converting its entire Kash 'n Karry chain in
western Florida to the Sweetbay concept. The typical Sweetbay
stocks 58,000 SKUs storewide, compared to the 41,000 carried by
'n Karry. Both stores are about 46,000 square feet.
Like many supermarket companies, Delhaize turned to
perishables to compete with Wal-Mart. But while many chains use
perishables to refresh their existing brands, Delhaize built a
new one from scratch.
Sweetbay opened in November 2004 in St. Petersburg, then
marched northward to Tampa. The company plans to convert 44
more Kash 'n Karry stores to Sweetbays by the end of this year,
primarily in the Tampa market, and convert the remaining 35
stores by the middle of 2007, a year ahead of original
With $16.6 billion
in sales, the U.S. division of
Brussels-based Delhaize Group is the
nation's 10th largest
It operates 1,223 Food Lion stores
Hannaford Bros. stores in the Northeast.
Delhaize hopes to grow its southwest Florida market share
against tough competition from Publix and Wal-Mart. In 2003,
Kash 'n Karry was the No. 2 supermarket chain in the Tampa-St.
Petersburg market, with a 17.22 percent share behind Publix,
which then held a 37.8 percent share, according to data from
Trade Dimensions, a Wilton, Conn., retail data firm.
But in the last few years, Wal-Mart took over the No. 2
spot. This spring, Publix, with 92 stores, had a share of 38.53
percent; Wal-Mart's 15 supercenters gave it a 17-percent share,
and Kash 'n Karry, at a 15.66 percent share, had dropped to
Sweetbay's perishables departments have grown dramatically
over Kash 'n Karry's, and the company's decision to accelerate
the conversion schedule is a sign Sweetbay is doing well, says
The move is dramatic, bold and well-timed, since weaker
competitors Winn-Dixie and Albertsons are hampered by
bankruptcy and a sale, respectively, says Neil Stern, a grocery
industry analyst and senior partner with McMillanDoolittle in
Sweetbay seafood departments carry a larger variety than
Kash 'n Karry, and are all service departments. The service
seafood case is a triangle of three refrigerated tables with
staff in the center, allowing customers to walk completely
around it and the staff to come out in front.
On the first Friday in Lent, what McWade calls the "cooked"
table displayed six different dips, three types of shrimp,
smoked mullet, king crab, snow crab, surimi and crawfish.
The fillet table offered fresh Chilean-farmed salmon steaks
(with or without bones) and fillets, marinated salmon in three
flavors and salmon roasts (two boneless fillets netted
together). Also on the table were New England groundfish like
cod, haddock and flounder.
The shellfish table displayed blue mussels, clams, oysters,
sea and bay scallops and froglegs. A frozen section in the
departments offers most of the table's fillets tray-wrapped and
To maintain high quality, McWade stocks only as much variety
as the departments can turn. That means as few as 10 types of
fresh fish or as many as 30, depending on the day.
A key to Sweetbay's seafood approach is its effort to
maintain high quality "from our store to their plate - actually
to their fork," says McWade.
That begins with strict purchasing specifications, he says.
"None of that is a good spend if we don't take care of it going
forward," says McWade. So training emphasizes proper
Even so, if the consumers mishandle seafood - easily done in
Florida's warm climate - the store will lose customers. To
prevent that, Sweetbay includes bags of ice with every order so
the fish stays chilled until it reaches the home refrigerator
To help consumers cook fish properly, the store issues
re-usable temperature probes. If the tip of the 3.5-inch
plastic pick turns orange when inserted into cooking fish, the
fish is done. A kiosk in the department offers recipe
suggestions, as do associates.
The store prides itself on being thorough, all the way to
suggesting a side dish and bottle of wine, says McWade.
"[Sweetbay has] done a very nice job," says Larry Andrews,
retail marketing director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing
Institute. "They're really reaching out and trying to educate
consumers about seafood.
"They want to have an informed shopper, and I think they're
doing everything possible to achieve that."
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,