How grocers can promote seafood for back-to-school

Published on
August 26, 2015

It is one of the best – and equally as chaotic – times of the year for parents in many countries. It is the time when children go back to school, leading families to have much busier lives that include working, picking up their children from school and driving them to all sorts of after-school activities. This does not leave a lot of time for the daily family meal together, and parents need all the assistance they can get.

Fresh, frozen and prepared/ready-to-cook seafood answers this need, since it is so convenient and quick to prepare – and is a much healthier option for families than some other proteins. “The halo of ‘better for you’ that seafood has in the mind’s eye of consumers extends during the shopping experience. We have found that customers who buy heat-and-eat seafood also buy salads or sides of vegetables,” said Steven Johnson, grocerant guru at consulting firm Foodservice Solutions.

Surprisingly, though, many U.K. and U.S. retailers are not specifically promoting their fresh or frozen seafood SKUs or prepared seafood meals-to-go for families seeking quick and healthy meals at the start of the school year. However, many U.S. and U.K. retailers have stepped up their offerings of convenient seafood meals, and are educating shoppers with demos, signage, recipes, cooking classes and discounts.

“With seafood, you get that quick, healthy meal that on-the-go families need. Almost anything can be cooked in about 10 minutes per inch of thickness, making it an ideal pick for those busy evenings,” said Jack Gridley, meat and seafood director for Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Market (DLM).

In addition to promoting its fresh seafood, DLM offers a wide selection of prepared seafood items for parents to cook at home, along with seafood recipes and cooking classes. Among its current prepared foods are crab cakes (made with fresh-picked North Carolina crab meat) for USD 7.50 each, Southwest salmon cakes made with Hatch chilies for USD 12.99 a pound, pecan-crusted tilapia Fillet for USD 9.99 a pound, and shrimp and crab salad for USD 7.99 a pound.

In September, DLM’s Culinary Center will offer a family-friendly stir-fry cooking class. “The idea is to get the whole family involved with meal prep. Plus, stir-fry is a quick meal idea where things like fresh shrimp or scallops can easily be used,” Gridley said.

In the United States, fresh salmon, shrimp and tilapia are among the most popular fresh seafood items for parents to pick up and quickly prepare.

In the United Kingdom, retailers can promote any whitefish and mackerel for fast, healthy meals. “Whitefish is always good and versatile. You can make everything from fish fingers to fish burgers to fish cakes,” said Denise Fraser, public relations manager for Seafish. To make seafood meals fun for children, parents and kids can make fish cakes into shapes, such as stars, hearts, and popular characters such as Yoda and Minions, Fraser suggested.

In addition, mackerel is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, and is available canned and in other formats, so it is “great for snacks and quick-turnaround meals,” Fraser said. Seafish also offers a Back to School booklet for retailers and parents with several seafood meal ideas and tips.

Meanwhile, U.S. retailers are making seafood more convenient for family meals.

“Poke bowls are popular as a grab-and-go meal, but we are exploring how we can go deeper into that and offer different add-ons to make a more substantial meal,” said Keoni Chang, corporate chef for Foodland Stores, operated by Honolulu, Hawaii-based Sullivan Family of Companies. To that end, Foodland recently began offering 6-pound pans of poke in a few different varieties, such as imitation crab poke and mussels poke.

Foodland executives are also exploring adding “sushi pans,” 9 x 13-inch pans containing a layered sushi-like casserole that includes rice, seafood, avocado and other fillings as layers in the dish. This type of “layered sushi” is becoming more popular in Hawaii, Chang noted.

And Seattle, Wash.-based Metropolitan Market offers several ready-to-eat seafood items such as shrimp mango poke salad, rub with love plank salmon, sesame seared tuna, cioppino and coconut lime shrimp ceviche. The program is successful because the offerings “look fresh and are replaced and or restocked frequently, with great detail taken in product presentation and area cleanliness,” Johnson said.

Still, Johnson sees room for improvement in many U.S. grocers’ fresh seafood and ready-to-eat seafood meal programs. “Most grocery stores are missing out by not highlighting fish on Fridays or specifically demoing and sampling a product that is unfamiliar, unknown, or seasonal,” Johnson said. “Demoing does not drive cooking at home; rather it drives awareness and purchase of ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat fresh prepared food, and is a great way for a retailer to drive customer loyalty along with top-line sales and bottom-line profits.”

Contributing Editor

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