How Canada grocers can improve dismal seafood scores

Published on
October 19, 2015

Canadian grocery chains have a lot of improvements to make in merchandising and marketing fresh seafood, consultants told SeafoodSource. The consultants were responding to a recent Field Agent Canada survey, which found that Canadian consumers grade supermarkets’ fresh seafood department a dismal “C” overall.

Consumers’ favorite grocery chains for seafood – T & T, Zehrs, Sobeys Ontario, Thrifty Foods and Provigo – only earned a B grade on average.

“Seafood merchandising hasn’t progressed that much in 24 years,” said Sally Seston, director of Retail Category Consultants. “A lot of what is passed off as fresh seafood is frozen and thawed and the meat department has a better selection of ready-to-eat products. Unfortunately, a lot of the times the seafood department still smells and a lot of people are really turned off by that.”

Plus, seafood counter staff is not educating shoppers on the type of seafood they are buying or how to prepare it. “The people who are working the seafood counter typically aren’t well-versed in their product but, when you get behind the meat counter, they tend to know more about the product,” Seston said. “People are being told to adopt a more of a Mediterranean diet, so they want that assistance and they are not getting it.”

Jeff Doucette, general manager of Field Agent Canada, agrees that fresh seafood education and marketing can be greatly improved. “For the right banners, having a specific focus on seafood could be a strategic advantage – a point of differentiation for them. If you can make the category easier to shop, fun to shop and give information about the product … it’s a great opportunity to trade consumers up from chicken to seafood once a week.”

However, Doucette also noted that supermarkets’ overall fresh seafood department grade was likely lower because the survey included a number of discount chains, such as No-Frills and Walmart. “The discounters don’t have a seafood counter. It’s typically tray-packed, cash-and-carry type of seafood, which would affect the results downward overall.”

And there is hope for national grocery chains, based on consumers’ perceptions of the top five grocers for seafood – and other chains. While Costco did not make it into the top five, it was one of shoppers’ favorite stores in Field Agent Canada’s overall regional rankings. “Even though they don’t have a fishmonger, it goes back to key products like Atlantic salmon. They sell a lot of it by offering a great product at a great price,” Doucette said.

And Loblaw-owned T & T Supermarket, which caters to Asian consumers, likely scored well because “their demand is higher, they have a broader selection and there is less demand for the education/ discovery piece of it,” Seston said.

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