Alaska salmon remains steady

Published on
June 30, 2015

While some U.S. grocery chains are waiting on better Alaska salmon prices to more heavily promote the popular fish, sales and events are still going strong. So far, Copper River salmon landings have been slow, despite the projected total high salmon run of 220.9 million this season.

“The Copper River runs have been very poor this season, with some of the numbers I have seen showing around 50 percent of the projected catch showing up,” said Brian Harbach, seafood category manager for Greensboro, N.C.-based The Fresh Market. “I don’t expect Copper River sockeyes to come down in price or be available in high quantities at all this season.” However, Harbach is “still optimistic on the sockeye season overall from Alaska.”

As a result of lower landings, Copper River sockeye prices started strong at the beginning of the season – ranging from USD 21.99 (EUR 19.38) a pound to USD 35.99 (EUR 31.72) a pound retail – but some grocery chains were running much more aggressive promotions by mid-June.

Some Albertson’s and Safeway stores on the West Coast featured Alaska sockeye salmon for USD 9.99 (EUR 8.80) a pound, while Whole Foods Market lowered its price from USD 24.99 (EUR 22.03) a pound to USD 19.99 (EUR 17.62) a pound in mid-June in certain regions, distributors said.

Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets started its Copper River salmon at USD 35.99 (EUR 31.72) a pound, but steadily lowered its price to USD 20.99 (EUR 18.50) a pound in mid-June as supplies picked up. “We expect another significant decrease next week [the week of 22 June] as well,” said Maria Brous, spokesperson for Publix.

However, supplies have not yet picked up enough for retailers to promote it at a price to move a large volume, according to retailers and distributors. “Prices haven’t come down to the levels of where they were at last year. Retailers are really banging on us for price reductions, so they can get some volume going,” said one West Coast distributor.

Retailers that are offering prices as low as USD 9.99 a pound are doing so at a loss, the distributor said. Similar to Albertson’s and Safeway, a Canadian grocery chain that was retailing Alaska sockeye for USD 9.99 a pound in June paid a much higher price than it was selling the salmon for, according to Katrina Colley, a sales representative for distributor Tradex Foods in Victoria, B.C. “They lost approximately CDN 20,000 (EUR 14,322) in order to get some excitement up this year. They hope they can switch people [from farmed salmon] to wild salmon, since it is going to be affordable this year.”

Despite the loss that some grocers are taking, some Alaska salmon promotions have been wildly successful this season.

When The Fresh Market got in its first Copper River sockeyes of the season in late May, the grocery chain priced them at USD 21.99 a pound. “We brought in as much as we could get our hands on, and it moved quite well, considering the high retail,” Harbach said. “The first of season Copper River sockeyes are really fantastic fish and our customers know it, so it is always a popular promotion.”

The Fresh Market also ran a “Wild Salmon Fest” from 27 May through 24 June, featuring king salmon for USD 19.99 a pound and sockeye salmon at USD 19.99 a pound later in the promotion. “We have had fresh king or Sockeye on ad all month to promote the new season and build some excitement around an exciting time in fresh seafood. We will run wild salmon as often as we can, as long as the quality is great,” Harbach said.

Other supermarkets rely on sampling and events to spike Alaska salmon sales. For example, Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Market holds a “Whole Salmon Sidewalk Sale” every July – this year from 3 July through 5 July. It has not yet set the price for the salmon, which will be shipped overnight from Sedovia Point, Alaska.

Likewise, Highland Park, Ill.-based Sunset Foods held its “Whole Copper River Sockeye Salmon Tent Sale” on 23 May, offering the fish for USD 20 (EUR 17.98) per pound. “We usually sell out in two to three hours,” said Dan Humphrey, meat and seafood director for Sunset Foods.

In addition, several supermarket chains partnered with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) this spring on in-store chef demos of frozen Alaska sockeye salmon, which also built shopper excitement for the fresh season.

“ASMI scheduled over 5,000 in-store demos, which have resulted in increased sales, displays and advertisements,” said Mark Jones, retail marketing representative for ASMI. The demos were conducted at 10 different retail chains in the Pacific Northwest, California, the Rockies, Texas, the Midwest, South and Mid-Atlantic.

ASMI also encourages retailers to use its Creator Select website, where they can access recipes, case dividers, signage for ice displays and other marketing materials. “We have seen increased activity in the use of ASMI point of sale materials to support retailers' efforts in promoting and merchandising wild Alaska Salmon this summer,” Jones said.

Contributing Editor

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