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Point of View: Building credibility before a crisis is key

Chuck Anderson
By Chuck Anderson
July 01, 2010

With the Gulf oil spill still making headlines, companies stand to lose business if customers shy away from seafood due to all the negative press. But companies that have built long-term credibility with their customers will do just fine in tough times like these.

The oil spill has the power to sap consumer confidence that Gulf seafood or any seafood is OK to eat, despite the industry's best efforts to declare its products safe.

But the spill is not the first incident to test consumer confidence in seafood and it will not be the last. Think of some of the issues that have garnered national media attention and negatively affected seafood sales over the years: pollution on beaches, depleted fish stocks, bacteria in raw oysters, reports of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in farmed salmon, red tide shutting down New England shellfish harvests, fraud in the form of species substitution and short-weighting, methylmercury in sushi-grade fish and the food-safety fallout in China.

Negative press happens regularly, and every story, whether true or not, carries the potential to damage consumer confidence. It's your job to not let that happen.

Many of the examples noted above are very different and some are more real than others. However, some consumers don't differentiate between sustainability, mislabeling or food-safety issues - they just think that seafood is risky. Therefore, many consumers will only buy seafood from a retailer they trust.

Communicating with customers is important to reassure them that the seafood you offer is safe and wholesome. It is even more important to have a comprehensive 365-days-per-year plan to proactively communicate and promote quality, safety and service.  In the case of the Gulf oil spill, well-run seafood retailers can gain customers from competitors that have not built a credible quality image.

Great seafood operators focus first and foremost on sourcing and maintaining great quality seafood through the entire operation until the customer has the product. The best operators also concentrate on training of managers and staff. Doing these two things very well is just the first step. Additionally, it is vital to consistently communicate your high standards for quality, sanitation, safety and service to customers.

How many signs are in a typical supermarket seafood department? I'd bet that most mention product and price. They get noticed, so don't miss an opportunity to sell what happens behind the scenes. Tell your customers about your product's quality, but also tell them how it was sourced, what your store's sanitation and safety-inspection practices include, and how they can enjoy successful seafood preparation at home.

Do your customers know what HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) means? Tell them. If your department inspects fish four times before sale and sanitizes the display cases three times daily, let your shoppers know about it. It builds trust and confidence.

Point-of-sale signs, brochures, the store's weekly ad, recipe cards and good old-fashioned one-on-one customer interaction are all viable methods to communicate a commitment to safe, quality seafood.

Having great quality seafood is not enough in tough times. Retailers that build customer confidence in their product and staff gain business in difficult times, while others risk losing sales.  

Retail seafood veteran Chuck Anderson is the director of retail and new business for Sousa Seafood in Boston.


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