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What's in Store: Summer = salmon

Retailers team with suppliers to build excitement about seasonal wild fish

Copper River salmon is a proven attention-getter for
    supermarket shoppers. - Photo courtesy of Cub Foods
By Christine Blank
July 01, 2010

Sellers of other seafood species are envious of Copper River salmon, the red-fleshed fish that gets all the attention starting in mid-May. For three months in advance, shoppers around the country bug retailers to find out when the first Copper River delivery will be made.

Grocery chains and fish markets wisely used the pomp and circumstance of the first wild Alaska salmon run to kick off the summer seafood season, which also includes wild halibut for grilling and shrimp for salads, among others.

Stillwater, Minn.-based Cub Foods, which operates 73 stores in the Midwest, used a multi-pronged advertising approach in advance of this year's Copper River salmon run.

First, Director of Perishables Jeff Sahr committed to a quantity of the fish, without knowing the price. "He wanted to be the first in his market to promote Copper River salmon and differentiate the stores from the big box chains," says Scott Wickert, VP of sales and marketing for distributor Morey's Seafood International of Motley, Minn., which supplies wild salmon to Cub Foods.

"We started about 10 years ago, and have made Copper River quite a selling festival. We see a steady gain [in sales] every year," says Sahr.

Secondly, with the help of Morey's and the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association based in Cordova, Alaska, Cub Foods hung 3-by-5-foot posters promoting Copper River salmon in its seafood departments. To build excitement, the posters and other signage went up prior to the start of the season.

Cub also featured point-of-sale materials, which explained the quality and health benefits of the king and sockeye salmon, on its service counters.

"It is imperative for people who are going to spend $29.95 a pound for the first-of-the-season fish to understand its benefits," says Wickert.

Cub's in-store displays and announcements help to increase interest in Alaska salmon through June and July.

"We have some refrigerated seafood units that we put throughout the stores. Staff is standing by the units, talking about the qualities of Copper River salmon," says Sahr.

Some of the portable display units grab customers' attention as soon as they walk through the front door.

"It creates an aura: It is the first thing people see when they come in the store," says Wickert. In a unique move, Cub is also placing a row of the king and sockeye salmon in its meat service counters, "for customers who might have passed the traditional seafood counter," says Wickert.

Radio ads, newspaper ads and features in its circular round out the multi-pronged Alaska salmon push at Cub.

The Kroger Co., Sunflower Farmers Market and Sprouts Farmers Market were also proactive with this year's Copper River salmon run. The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association and Seattle Fish Co. of Denver provided the chains with oversized posters promoting Alaska salmon.

The chains started putting the posters in their seafood departments and at the front of their stores about a month prior to the start of the season and are keeping them up throughout the summer.

"We put together some numbers for Kroger on their wild salmon sales, and the numbers were huge last year," says Will Martin, retail merchandiser for Seattle Fish Co.

Because marketing efforts - including TV coverage of the first delivery - build the excitement, most retailers say their shoppers ask for it at least a month in advance.

"We didn't spend a penny on advertising. We have a lot of people who ask for it 60 to 90 days in advance, and we put signs around the shop," says Jon Daniels, owner and GM of City Fish, a retailer and wholesaler at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Wild salmon is City Fish's top seller every year. While sockeye and king are popular, shoppers also buy coho when it hits the market in August. In addition, City Fish heavily promotes Columbia River (Oregon) salmon.

"If people are crying at the price of Copper River, we usually drop down to $9.99 a pound for Columbia River," says Daniels.

While wild Alaska salmon accounts for a chunk of 
retailers' summer promotional dollars, many other seafood species also catch consumers' attention.

Several grocery chains are running "wild Alaska seafood" promotions throughout the summer.

"We are working with 
 numerous clients this year to run all Alaska seafood sales. They are promoting salmon, halibut, fresh Alaska cod, king crab and Morey's smoked salmon portions," says Wickert.

Another strong seller every summer is shrimp for salads, says Ed Drennan, national retail accounts manager for wholesaler Pacific Seafood Group in Clackamas, Ore. "Landings have been very strong for the last two to three years," says Drennan. As a result, some retailers have small salad shrimp on ads for $2.99 a pound during the summer months.

Alaska halibut for grilling, along with salmon and albacore tuna, will also be pro moted heavily this summer, says Drennan. One grocery chain recently ran a promo tion on whole halibut, including a brochure explaining how to fillet the fish for those willing to do the work at home.

"As the cost of halibut increases, the customer may not want to pay $14.99 per fillet," says Drennan.

Still, Alaska seafood promotions appear to be even more popular this year, because they fit in with chains' sustainability policies. "There has been a shift in customers' desire to purchase wild seafood. And, with retailers' sustainability and environmental initiatives, you are able to tie it in with the fact that the quality that comes from Alaska is remarkable," says Wickert.

"People are wanting wild species. The numbers continue to grow every single year," adds Martin.


Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.


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