La. grocer embraces domestic shrimp

Published on
September 2, 2009

Even as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal pledges to help the state’s ailing shrimp fishery, including ordering state agencies to buy domestic shrimp, one retailer is already working to boost sales of the product.

“This year, we are going to eliminate any foreign shrimp out of our stores,” Rick Heatherington, director of seafood merchandising and operations for Rouses Supermarkets, told SeafoodSource on Wednesday. The Thibodaux, La., company operates 34 stores in Louisiana and southern Mississippi.

Until August, Rouses had been purchasing head-on shrimp raised in Asia for its party trays and boiled offerings. Rouses boils shrimp in Cajun seasoning in its stores and sells it fresh and frozen. While the Asian shrimp costs at least USD 1 (EUR 0.70) per pound less than domestic Gulf shrimp, Rouses’ customers prefer the flavor of shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, said Heatherington.

“Our cooked shrimp sales weren’t as good, because [customers] did not want to buy foreign shrimp. The customer down here will pay for the better quality and flavor,” he said.

Rouses’ boiled Cajun shrimp from Asia retailed for as little as USD 3.99 (EUR 2.78) a pound, on special for the fall tailgating season and other events.

Because of the popularity of Gulf shrimp in its stores, Rouses executives are expanding its frozen private-label shrimp program. Rouses launched the IQF private-label program last year with bulk, cooked Louisiana wild shrimp.

Now Rouses will sell three sizes of boiled, shelled, tail-on frozen Gulf shrimp, in one-pound bags. In its service case, it will offer bulk, private-label cooked Louisiana shrimp.

Heatherington is not concerned about supplies of domestic shrimp. “Last year, the shrimp season ran almost all year long,” he said. And Rouses contracts with several Gulf shrimp suppliers, including New Orleans Fish House and JBS Shrimp.

Rouses’ overall focus on buying local seafood is paying off for the supermarket chain. Last year, seafood sales increased a record 78 percent. By the end of July, Rouses’ seafood sales were up 58 percent.

“We do have quality, fresh, local products,” said Heatherington. That makes a huge difference.”

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