Despite a myriad of challenges including high pollock prices, labor shortages, and a severe winter storm, Long John Silver’s boasted its strongest Lent sales in many years, an executive said in an interview with SeafoodSource.
The Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.A.-based restaurant chain’s system-wide sales from Ash Wednesday through Easter averaged 20 percent higher than average Lent volumes in more than a decade. Good Friday (2 April) proved be the chain’s biggest sales day on record, as well as its highest Good Friday sales. The operator also had its biggest Easter Sunday sales on record, along with its biggest single sales week, from 15 March through 21 March.
“Usually, we have had to close restaurants on Easter because don’t get a lot of business,” LJS Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie Mattingly told SeafoodSource.
Mattingly attributed LJS’s robust Lenten sales to Americans receiving economic stimulus payments, the introduction of popular Lenten specials, and the company’s efforts to improve speed and accuracy of drive-through and delivery orders. Programs rolled out this year to improve speed and order accuracy at drive-through are resonating with customers, Mattingly said.
“That is our major focus this year,” she said.
LJS’s inclusion of shrimp it its Lenten specials also proved successful. It offered a Fish and Shrimp Combo that included one piece of hand-battered, wild-caught Alaska pollock, three pieces of shrimp, one side, two hushpuppies, and a drink. It also promoted its USD 10.00 (EUR 8.25) Sea-Shares, featuring the customer’s choice of 15 grilled shrimp, 15 batter-dipped shrimp, or a shareable serving of crispy breaded popcorn shrimp.
“We haven’t advertised shrimp in a long time, and our consumers really like our grilled shrimp. It’s something we want to continue to promote,” Mattingly said.
But LJS is facing two major headwinds thus far in 2021: labor shortages and record high pollock prices. LJS’s pollock costs in the first quarter were 9 to 10 percent higher than the first quarter of 2020, and LJS buyers expect the price to hike another 9 to 10 percent in the second half of this year, according to Mattingly.
“We are seeing price increases in pollock that we have never seen before…and that is the main fish we use,” she said.
Mattingly said the pollock price increase was primarily caused by COVID-19 outbreaks at Trident Seafoods, one of its primary suppliers, which led to lack of labor to fish for pollock.
“We didn’t see as much price increase from High Liner and Channel, our other main suppliers,” Mattingly said.
However, Trident is recovering and its A fishing season is “doing great,” according to Mattingly. “We are hoping the pollock price will start coming down in 2022,” she said.
LJS has experienced only a “slight price increase” in shrimp, and prices on cod, clams, and other seafood it uses have remained fairly stable. However, price hikes on chicken, soybean oil, condiments, and other foods and sundries will impact the operator this year. In addition, LJS is experiencing a “tight labor market unlike any other period in the last 10 years,” LJS Director of Human Resources Jim Burns told SeafoodSource.
In response, LJS has implemented sign-on and retention bonuses in most markets. Bonuses range from USD 300 (EUR 248) for part-time team members up to USD 5,000 (EUR 4,126) for full-time management positions. LJS is also offering “Matching Base Pay plus 10 percent” to qualified restaurant general manager candidates who meet specific experience requirements in addition to sign-on bonuses, Burns said.
The chain’s operations leaders project that the labor shortage will continue to tighten through August “with many lingering concerns of COVID-19 exposure, current enhanced unemployment benefits, and many potential candidates experiencing childcare challenges,” Burns said.
LJS started out 2021 with the second phase of a sweeping revitalization plan, along with a new executive team.
Blain Shortreed, who joined the company 2019 as chief operating officer, was named the company’s new chief executive officer. In addition, Mattingly was promoted to chief marketing officer, Tom Burress was hired as vice president of franchise operations, and Christopher Caudill advanced to vice president of marketing.
The company will make additional investments in operations and add a new mobile ordering service this year. It also has a plan to remodel restaurants and will open new restaurants.
Photo courtesy of Long John Silver’s