« January 2011 Table of Contents
What's in Store: New Year's revolutions
Retailers go in new directions to boost sales in 2011
By Christine Blank
January 01, 2011
Carl Fantasia, owner of family-operated New Deal Fish Market
in Cambridge, Mass., is always thinking of ways to attract new
customers and change with the times. Fantasia realizes that
willingness to try new ventures - such as adding prepared
seafood items and holding cooking classes - is vital to thrive
in today's economic climate.
Most retailers face a difficult year, as the United States
climbs its way out of a recession and unemployment
remain high compared to previous years. Fantasia and other
seafood retailers say that they must add new recipes and
different species to their offerings, while controlling seafood
purchasing costs and sometimes reducing SKUs to compete in the
market in 2011.
Supermarket operators recently surveyed by the Food
Marketing Institute (FMI) said that the economy is
their top concern, followed by competition
"Shoppers' overwhelming focus on price and value had led to
fierce competition among food retailers. Supermarkets are
trying to distinguish themselves from the competition by
fine-tuning their private-label strategies, SKU [stock-keeping
unit] reduction and price differentiation," says Leslie
Sarasin, FMI's president and CEO.
Retailers like Minneapolis-based Wedge Co-op have reduced
their seafood department SKUs over the past year. "Seafood
sales have gone down [in the past year], so we sell the stuff
that works and is inexpensive. We have cut down on variety,"
says Andrew Silbernagel, seafood buyer for the single-store
Over the past year, more Wedge shoppers are buying poultry
than seafood, says Silbernagel, so the store is hesitant to try
out new or unusual species.
"It is hard to get people to spend money on something new
when they are on a budget," says Silbernagel. Instead, Wedge
focuses on buying the freshest and most sustainable seafood
they can and selling only the items that have been proven to be
popular among its shoppers: smoked fish, salmon and tilapia.
The retailer displays between 15 and 20 fresh seafood items
Despite the economic challenges facing them, seafood
retailers remain optimistic that they can outsell their
competition by offering something new and different to
customers. New Deal Fish Market, which caters to gourmands from
the Harvard community and the surrounding area, plans to hold
cooking classes in 2011 and offer value-added products for the
"We will offer classes on the basics, such as 'how to fillet
a fish,' up to more advanced classes such as 'how to prepare
gourmet seafood meals.' I am going to teach some and will hire
my chef friends in the area to teach some," says Fantasia.
New Deal is also developing refrigerated seafood stocks and
chowders in 2011. "We have to be looking at value-added right
now. At the same time, we have to be busy and move a lot of
fish, so a lot of successful restaurateurs have said not to
turn the fish market into a restaurant," says Fantasia.
New Deal has already separated itself from its competitors
by fashioning the fish market into a specialty shop that is
frequented by higher-end clientele.
"Our main demographic is foodies: They watch the cooking
shows, they read about cooking and they love to cook at home. A
portion of our customers are Japanese, so we know all the
names in Japanese and other languages," says Fantasia.
New Deal's gourmet offerings include imported cheeses and
olive oils, salted anchovies from Sicily, dried figs from
Turkey and all the ingredients for making sushi at home.
"We also carry a lot of whole fish, and a lot of fish
markets don't do that," says Fantasia.
Despite the difficult economic climate over the past two
years, 2009 was a record year for sales at New Deal. "I think
we do a very good job at separating ourselves from the
competition and people were not eating at restaurants as much.
They like buying healthy food, and cooking it at home," says
Fantasia. Consumers are also more aware of the health benefits
of seafood, he adds.
Seafood sales at PCC Natural Markets, a chain of nine
natural and organic stores in Seattle, were also strong
throughout 2009 and 2010, as shoppers continued to be
interested in sustainable and natural food, according to Russ
Ruby, director of merchandising at PCC.
"While the local economy is struggling to return to its
pre-recession strength, this has not affected our sales and
pricing, nor created any difficult challenges for our seafood
program," says Ruby. PCC's success mimics a national trend.
Around 74 percent of supermarkets said that their health and
wellness initiatives were one of the primary ways they
differentiated themselves in
the marketplace in 2010,
according to the FMI survey.
This year, PCC plans to expand its private label Natural
Express line of pre-seasoned meats and seafood to include more
varieties of grill-ready salmon, halibut, fish kabobs and other
seafood entrées. The line already includes Teriyaki & Kalbi
(a Korean preparation) and Lemon Pepper & Garlic Herb
varieties of salmon fillets, halibut fillets and halibut
kabobs. PCC this year is also adding more wild domestic shrimp,
along with additional varieties of crab and lobster.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary,