U.S. supermarkets use discounts, samples to boost Lent sales

U.S. retailers are going all out to capitalize on Lent, starting discounts and events earlier this year than in years past. While weekly seafood specials are prolific, some chains are also conducting seafood demonstrations and featuring seafood recipes in their circulars and at the fresh seafood counter, as they aim to attract non-regular seafood department shoppers who are eating fish on Fridays during Lent.

The Lenten season, which runs from 18 February through 2 April, produces the highest seafood sales in the United States, compared to any other 40-day time period. That is why — despite devastating snowstorms in the Northeast U.S. this year — many retailers are starting earlier and running aggressive promotions throughout the holiday.

“A lot of people will only eat seafood on Fridays during Lent. We had a big Ash Wednesday, and that will continue for the next six weeks,” said Arthur Ackles, director of seafood, deli and specialty cheese for Wellesley, Mass.-based Roche Bros., which operates 18 stores in Massachusetts.

While Boston and the surrounding area bore the brunt of this winter’s snowstorms — the city received a record of more 62 inches of snow in February — it only had a temporary impact on Lenten seafood sales. “Ash Wednesday fell on school vacation week, which tends to be a little slower anyway,” Ackles said. “Demand was down 5 to 7 percent, but it will bounce back the last week in February.”

Roche Bros.’ Lent promotions are multi-pronged, featuring several seafood items discounted weekly, along with recipe cards at the fresh seafood counters. During Lent, Roche offers specials on fresh cod and haddock, alternating the two popular species every other week. “In the Northeast, they are the best fish you can sell,” Ackles said. “We also have specials on clam chowder, salmon, tilapia and take-and-bake items like stuffed clams and stuffed fillets.”

While Roche typically retails local cod and haddock for between USD 11.99 (EUR 10.58) and USD 12.99 (EUR 11.46) a pound, they are on special for USD 9.99 (EUR 8.82) a pound during Lent.

Roche Bros. provides recipes in its weekly circulars and at the seafood counters on preparing all different types of seafood, particularly species such as trout that its shoppers are not as familiar with. “When we put a recipe in the ad, there is typically a 20 percent lift in sales for the week; it doesn’t even have to be on sale. Customers want to feel sure that, if they are going to spend money on seafood, they are not going to ruin it.”

Like at Roche Bros., executives at West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee don’t expect harsh winter weather to impact overall seafood sales during Lent. “A lot of the fishermen didn’t get out because of bad weather, and both trucking and air shipments have been affected, but it won’t affect our Lent sales. We have a full-page seafood feature ad for a full month, along with our weekly ad,” said Nate Stewart, VP of perishables for Hy-Vee, which operates 235 stores.

And Hy-Vee (pictured) discounts a number of other frozen and fresh seafood items during Lent. More than 20 items are featured during Hy-Vee’s Gulf Shrimp and Seafood Sale from 15 February through 15 March, including farmed Verlasso salmon portions for USD 5 (EUR 4.41) each, Trident’s Alaska salmon burgers for USD 4.99 (EUR 4.40) for 11.2 ounces and Hy-Vee fully cooked shrimp, 51/60 count for USD 8.99 (EUR 7.93) a pound.

Hy-Vee kicked off its seafood Lent promotions early by sampling Ivar’s seafood chowders on Fat Tuesday. Ivar’s Clam Chowder and Wild Smoked Salmon Chowder are on special for USD 6.98 (EUR 6.16) for 20 ounces through mid-March. Plus, from early February through mid-March, Hy-Vee is conducting weekly sampling of Gulf of Mexico shrimp, Alaska cod and farmed salmon.

Hy-Vee carries several different sizes of raw Gulf brown and white shrimp and specials running throughout February and mid-March include Wild USA Gulf E-Z Peel Shrimp, 16/20 count for USD 11.99 (EUR 10.58) per pound and 31/40 count for USD 10.99 (EUR 9.70) a pound. “We have been doing our Gulf shrimp promotion for several years now and it has performed very well for us,” Stewart said.

Sampling is vital to increasing sales, especially during the Lenten season. “We like to give our customers an opportunity to try different varieties of seafood, so they can hone in on what they like and bring new creations to the dinner table,” Stewart said. “The majority of our stores have a full-time chef who prepares it for our customers, as well as an in-house dietitian who promotes seafood during this time of year. It is a total package.”

Lobster is another popular item this year for Lent promotions. Because Northeast U.S. and Canadian lobsters were plentiful this year, buyers are getting it for a good price and passing that along to shoppers. Hy-Vee is featuring cooked whole lobsters for USD 11.99 (EUR 10.58) a pound. Hy-Vee is also running 4-ounce spiny lobster tails for USD 6.99 (EUR 6.17) a pound.

Likewise, Roche Bros. is featuring stuffed 5- to 6-ounce lobster tails for USD (6 EUR 5.29) each. “In the Northeast, we were only allowed to sell lobster tails for the last six months. We started carrying 3-4 ounce and 5-6 ounce tails for grilling during the summer and stuffed during the winter and have sold around 12,000 of those in the last six months,” Ackles said.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Giant Eagle is featuring four-day, “limited time” seafood events throughout the Lenten season along with price reductions that will highlight some of its most popular species, including shrimp, tilapia and wild Copper River Salmon.

“We will also be offering our made-in-store hand battered and Panko-breaded Alaska cod for USD 7.99 per pound, and with every pound purchased, customers will receive a free package of Bob Evans brand macaroni and cheese (USD 3.99 value),” said Dan Donovan, a spokesperson for Giant Eagle, which operates 232 stores.


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