Sushi maker looks for growth in US retail
Houston, Texas, U.S.A.-based Snowfox, which operates more than 4,000 fresh sushi kiosks in supermarkets, sushi bars, and other locations, is growing its footprint with wholesale clubs and supermarkets in the United States.
Sushi chefs for Snowfox – which is operated by JFE Franchising, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Jim Kim Holdings – prepare fresh (raw and cooked) packaged sushi at supermarkets, universities, and other outlets in around 27 states.
Snowfox operates kiosks in nearly 150 Sam's Club stores and more than 100 Albertsons’ stores. It is also the exclusive fresh sushi provider at Kroger stores in Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, and Michigan.
Currently, Snowfox is aiming to expand even further into the Northeastern U.S. and Pacific Northwest. Earlier this year, it partnered with Sunbury, Pennsylvania-based Weis Markets, which operates nearly 200 stores in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
“This is our new area that we targeted,” Snowfox Buyer Jason Yang told SeafoodSource. “There are a lot of good markets in the Boston area and throughout the Northeast.”
California is another target market, and Yang expects Snowfox to expand further into the state next year.
“We are just waiting on permitting,” he said.
Snowfox has grown rapidly since its inception in 2005. This year, its expansion only accelerated after it merged with London, United Kingdom-based YO! Sushi in July. The merger, which created one of the largest Japanese food companies outside of Japan, included SnowFox, YO!, Bento Sushi, and Taiko Foods.
Among the reasons for Snowfox’s rapid supermarket growth is its aggressive demo program in stores, its competitive pricing, and the provider’s focus on sourcing high quality, sustainable seafood, Yang said.
“We try to make two types of customers happy: the grocery banners and the customers. We promise good-quality products, with all the fish products being sustainable, and having that traceability up-to-date. Many companies are looking for that,” Yang said.
To that end, the provider has partnered with Fort Collins, Colorado-based FishChoice, a nonprofit that “offers the largest online database of seafood sustainability data,” according to a press release.
“FishChoice has saved us a tremendous amount of time in finding sustainable seafood products that help our customers meet sustainable seafood commitments. The FishChoice website makes it easy to find new, verified suppliers around the world,” Snowfox Co-Founder and President Stacy Kwon said.
FishChoice’s database provided Yang with the ability to find seafood products that have Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) approval. The database also provided information about recalls and drilled down on each species’ sustainability and traceability.
“The site goes to the very bottom, including how they catch the fish,” Yang said. “For example, there is both longline-caught and handline-caught tuna, but the most sustainable is through handline.”
“We are able to show our traceability and really talk about our certifications and standards, to the grocery managers – and to the consumers who are buying our products,” Yang added.
Through FishChoice, Snowfox found sustainable suppliers, including a firm based in the U.S. Pacific Northwest that provides its MSC-certified tuna, a supplier that provides ASC-certified farmed Norwegian salmon, and a shrimp supplier that boasts ASC and BAP certifications. Yang declined to list the names of the company’s current suppliers.
Despite sourcing sustainable seafood, which can carry a premium price, Yang said Snowfox’s sushi is often priced less than other retail sushi kiosk providers.
“Our company is more in the franchising business. We get lower margins than any other company, because we try to lower the margin we have and give more margin to our chefs. We believe that is the right thing to do,” Yang said.
Another key to Snowfox’s retail success is sampling its cooked sushi daily for shoppers.
“Even people who are new to sushi are able to taste it, since we offer cooked sushi as well,” Yang said.
Snowfox chefs typically sample the company’s best-selling roll: New York Crunch, which includes initiation crab meat, imitation crab salad, and avocados topped with fried onions.
While Snowfox would like to expand in all 50 states, “we want to take it slow,” Yang said.
“We don’t want to grow too fast. A steady pace is more needed rather than just rapidly growing, which can be disorganized,” he added.
Snowfox prefers to learn more about each particular grocery store and what their shoppers like before expanding more widely, Yang explained.
Photo courtesy of Snowfox