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What's in Store: Seafood celebration

Retailers struggle to take advantage of National Seafood Month marketing benefits

Retailers incorporate National Seafood month in store
    plans, despite odd timing. - Photo courtesy of Dorothy Lane Market
By Christine Blank
October 01, 2010

Leah Caplan, executive chef and local-foods liaison at the two-store Metcalfe's Market in Madison, Wis., has been busily preparing for October's National Seafood Month for the past few months. That is because the month-long event conveniently coincides with the launch of Metcalfe's sustainable seafood program.

However, Metcalfe's is one of the few retailers that hold events and special seafood sales during National Seafood Month. SeaFood Business talked with retailers, distributors and others to find out why Seafood Month is not utilized by retailers more often as a way to boost sales.

"October is a big month, but not because it is National Seafood Month. You have Alaskan king crab season kicking off and the last of the coho salmon. We do promotions on those items, but not because it is Seafood Month," says Jack Gridley, meat and seafood director for the three-store Dorothy Lane Market in Dayton, Ohio.

Dorothy Lane also holds clambake events in its store starting this month. "When that season starts in mid-October, we will do several weeks of promotions and clambakes. We let people order, and pick them up for the weekend," says Gridley.

In general, retailers are promoting National Seafood Month less because they are focusing more on marketing certain species that are in season.

"National Seafood Month used to be a tool to help bridge the sales gap between summer and the holidays. These days, different brands, different categories and even individual species choose to utilize their marketing resources in different ways and at different times during the year," says Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute.

Some retailers have not promoted National Seafood Month, says Joe D'Alessandro, senior director of seafood merchandising for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) in Montvale, N.J., because it is not a good season for the event.

"October is a difficult month to have it, since it is typically one of the slowest months for seafood sales. It would be more complementary if National Seafood Month were in one of the summer months, when there is an abundance of local day-boat product available," says D'Alessandro.

Still, A&P chains are heavily promoting seafood in October to take advantage of the promotion. "We are planning a dynamic month, filled with special promotions and sampling - with a focus on highlighting specific species, health benefits, simple preparation and speed of cooking time," says D'Alessandro.

A&P stores have also added space in their weekly circulars to promote seafood in October, and are running an internal contest "to get everyone excited about this month," says D'Alessandro.

In addition, Metcalf's Market, Price Chopper of Schenectady, N.Y., and other retailers are running marketing campaigns for National Seafood Month.

Metcalfe's is launching its sustainable seafood program in October, working with FishWise and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program to color-code its seafood as unsustainable (red), a good alternative (yellow), and green (the best sustainable choice). "To kick off the program, we are going to eliminate three 'red' varieties: skate, monkfish and shark," says Caplan.

The launch of the sustainable program neatly ties in with National Seafood Month, since Metcalfe's has been advertising the sustainable program since mid-September. "We are doing a fair amount of advertising and a lot of media coverage," says Caplan, including a full-page ad in Madison magazine, messages in Metcalfe's weekly circular, radio advertising and in-store demos of sustainable fish.

Meanwhile, Price Chopper devotes the back page of its weekly circular to National Seafood Month every October. "Every week, we feature our Catch of the Week, and have recipes in-store and information at the case," says Lee French, VP of seafood merchandising for Price Chopper.

Price Chopper holds several seafood festivals during that month, including events around scallops, lobster and salmon. The festivals include demos and sales of all the different product forms of a specific species. During the week salmon is featured, for example, Price Chopper is featuring salmon cakes, salmon burgers, Norwegian salmon and salmon portions. "We tend to get a real good uptick in sales [from the events]," says French.

Retail chains that are not tying in seafood department promotions with National Seafood Month are leaving potential sales on the floor, says Mark Palicki, VP of marketing for distributor Fortune Fish Co. in Bensenville, Ill.

"I think it should be a bigger deal. I haven't seen banners or any of the type of promotions you see when wild salmon season starts," says Palicki.

Instead, retailers should use National Seafood Month as an opportunity to educate shoppers about the protein's health benefits, says Palicki. "I think it would be a good month to talk about the health benefits of seafood, such as omega-3 fatty acids. It is back-to-school time too, so they could talk about how it is good for kids," says Palicki.

There should be a national focus on the event, says D'Alessandro, in which each community comes together to hold clambakes, chowder festivals, crab cake contests and other events. Radio and TV personalities also should promote the month and its surrounding events.

"It would be beneficial to see cooking shows focus segments specific to seafood during National Seafood Month," adds D'Alessandro.


Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.


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