Growth spurt: Haggen conversions a step forward for seafood

Published on
May 27, 2015

Albertsons and Safeway shoppers in the Pacific Northwest will soon notice a completely different look to their stores — particularly at the fresh seafood counters. As Bellingham, Wash.-based grocery chain Haggen converts 146 former Albertsons and Safeway stores to the Haggen banner throughout the spring and summer, it is significantly enhancing the quality, selection and environment of the stores’ perishable departments.

The chain, which previously operated just 18 stores and employed around 2,000, is known for its selection of natural, sustainable and high-quality products, and the environment of its stores is decidedly more upscale than a typical supermarket. Now, as Haggen converts the acquired retail sites in California, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, executives will transfer the style, quality and staff training to the new stores.

“We’re on a journey to ‘Haggenize’ our stores, so guests can anticipate continued changes over the coming weeks and months,” said Haggen’s Fresh VP Rich Winters. “Overall, our goal is to deliver fresh, high quality offerings throughout the store and especially in our seafood department, given our Pacific Northwest roots.”

The fresh seafood counters in the new stores are undergoing a number of changes, including the addition of fresh items to replace some frozen/defrosted items, the addition of sustainable seafood options — Haggen recently committed to carrying only “yellow” and “green” items according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program — as well as more regional species and more prepared seafood products.

“We will also listen to our guests to bring in items they’re looking for and introduce variety into their shopping experience. Our goal is to bring in any guest-requested item within 48 hours and our standard supply chain delivery time is 48 hours as well,” Winters said. In addition, Haggen is swapping out seafood cases as needed, “to enhance our fresh image and standards in our newly converted stores,” Winters said.

To maintain the trust shoppers have with their local Albertsons and Safeway stores, Haggen opted to retain the meat/seafood managers in each store, according to Winters. At the corporate level, Haggen’s seafood purchasing is handled by Oscar Romero, director of meat and seafood, and the company plans to hire a seafood specialist soon.

Southern California distributor Santa Monica Seafood is supplying fresh seafood for 100 of the converted Haggen stores in California, Arizona and Nevada. While the company did not previously supply Haggen stores, it was simply because the stores were outside of the company’s distribution area, said Giovanni Comin, VP of Santa Monica Seafood.

“We have relationships that existed with many of the people at Haggen and were already familiar with many of their stores,” Comin said.

The two companies’ shared commitment to sustainability makes the new partnership a perfect fit. “Our goal is to have as many ‘green’ items throughout our seafood department as possible,” Winters said. Already, some Santa Monica-supplied products are being sold in converted stores, including Ahi Poke Salad, salmon burgers and Santa Monica Seafood’s seasoning line.

The Haggen-Santa Monica Seafood partnership is not only beneficial to the two companies, but it sends a positive message to the U.S. retail seafood industry, said Phillip Walsh, VP of business development at Miami-based Alfa Gamma Seafood Group and former director of seafood sales and procurement for New England retailer Stop & Shop.

“That’s a great decision Haggen made. They didn’t go with the cheapest supplier and instead took the high road. For seafood in America, it is a step forward,” Walsh said. “Seafood harvested from managed resources, traveling through transparent cold chains to correctly merchandised display cases staffed by knowledgablle associates answers not only to customer’s expectations, but to the bottom line as well.”

As Haggen’s sole seafood supplier for the 100 stores, Santa Monica Seafood has a unique relationship with the retailer, educating staff in the converted store’s fresh seafood departments. “We added staff specific to Haggen, and we do training and merchandising in the stores,” Comin said.

The additional training will likely increase Haggen’s fresh seafood department profitability, according to Walsh, “because customers that are told where their seafood comes from, how it was caught and what it’s like, are happy customers and happy customers spread the word.”

Meanwhile, Haggen is sourcing more wild and regional species to add to the converted stores, “similar to what they do in the Pacific Northwest,” Comin said. Next, Santa Monica Seafood is looking for sources of sustainable farmed salmon for Haggen.

“Currently, they have farmed salmon and we are working towards a plan to upgrade that to ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ choices. Otherwise, all other items are yellow or green,” Comin said.

While Santa Monica Seafood is Haggen’s sole seafood supplier for its stores in California, Nevada and Arizona, Haggen executives are open to working with other distributors. Seattle's Ocean Beauty Seafoods is Haggen's sole seafood supplier for its Northern division stores. “With local being a key value for Haggen, we will certainly keep an eye out for opportunities to partner with local suppliers/distributors as it makes sense for our business and our customers,” Winters said.

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