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What's in Store: How shops shop

Retailers share their International Boston Seafood Show strategies

Connections made in Boston can result in greater variety at the seafood counter. - Photo courtesy of Stew Leonard’s
Christine Blank
March 05, 2011

Every March, the International Boston Seafood Show/Seafood Processing America is the place where the seeds for big deals between grocery chain buyers and their suppliers and distributors are planted. This year, retailers tell SeaFood Business that finding seafood items offering value to shoppers, along with sustainable, healthy and organic options, top their wish lists for the trade show.

“[Our top concerns] are finding affordable fish, since many — like swordfish, sea scallops and king crab — are in short supply with high prices,” says Fred Papp, seafood manager for Stew Leonard’s Norwalk, Conn., store. The four-store Stew Leonard’s chain is based in Norwalk.

Stew Leonard’s buyers will also be on the lookout for new types of farmed fish that will allow the chain to offer consistent supplies of “cost-effective” product, according to Papp. “Tilapia is farmed, and its source is reliable and the product does not have big price jumps. So, we are always looking for ‘the next tilapia,’” says Papp. 

Higher seafood prices are also the chief concern for buyers from Roundy’s Supermarkets in Milwaukee. “Higher seafood prices would have to be No. 1, with the economy the way it is today. There are escalating costs on commodities, including shrimp, crab, salmon and catfish,” says Vivian King, director of public affairs for Roundy’s.

As a result, Roundy’s buyers will seek suppliers with “better prices” at the show, as well as those who are selling portion-cut fish that can be sold individually, instead of by the pound. “This shows a value to our consumers,” says King. 

Buyers from the 38-store Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses are also looking for less expensive seafood supplies. “It is definitely going to be a strategic year in the seafood industry. We are going to try to squeeze out some good items that are of value to our customers,” says James Breuhl, seafood director at Rouses. 

For example, because catfish prices have been high, Breuhl will be on the lookout for alternatives. “One of the big things coming to the market is swai (pangasius), which is a great white fish. We will probably be testing it,” he says. Catfish prices have been about 60 percent higher at retail than last year, according to Breuhl. 

Even though Rouses prioritizes local seafood, the chain’s cost-conscious customers are willing to buy some imported products like pangasius. 

“We already offer the high-quality products, and the high-end customer does not mind paying for those products. We are looking more toward the value products this year, so we can have something for everyone,” says Breuhl.

Retail buyers attending the Boston show say they are looking for more value-added seafood products to add to their stores. Roundy’s plans to add value-added selections, and Rouses is expanding its prepared offerings.

“It is something that is convenient for the consumers to purchase, and a lot of the younger consumers are looking for that type of product,” says Breuhl. While Rouses offers marinated seafood in four different flavors, its stores do not carry a wide selection of other value-added products. 

In addition to seeking value-added suppliers, Roundy’s buyers are looking for partners to bid on a new private-label seafood program for the chain. They also want to partner with a processor that will “assist in rushing fresh fish to market,” says King. “We are looking for an East Coast relationship that can get our product to our store through FedEx in 24 hours,” says King.

Buyers from Roundy’s also plan to get educated on sustainability and traceability. “What does our consumer want and what will they pay extra for in this economy? As a retailer, what is the right thing for our consumer?” says King.

Meanwhile, buyers from Stew Leonard’s will be seeking more healthful options, says Papp, who also hopes to learn about aquaculture methods, organic seafood and new recipe ideas at the show. “We are looking at the techniques used to farm fish, and what they are being fed. These are questions our customers are asking, so we need to have the answers,” says Papp.


Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla. 

March 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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