US grocer taking prepared seafood to new level with reusable ceramic containers

In its most recent offering of innovative prepared seafood dishes, upscale grocery chain The Fresh Market is offering seafood meals in reusable ceramic ramekins.

The Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S.A.-based operator of 161 stores launched a line of six Seafood Ramekins, which includes a “hearty” meal for one, earlier this year. 

The aim is to offer shoppers, particularly millennials, “flavorful entrées you’d find at your favorite seafood restaurant, ready to bake in 35 minutes or less,” the retailer said on its website. The specialty seafood merchandiser wants its shoppers to view it as a neighborhood fresh fish market, Brandon Tilley, seafood category manager for The Fresh Market, told SeafoodSource.

“We want to help our customers continue to enjoy their favorite fish and shellfish in new, delicious and easy-to-cook ways. The seafood ramekins is a great example of this – a unique offering that is on-trend and offers a great-tasting, easy-to-heat-and-eat option for our guests,” Tilley said.

The new line is just the latest iteration of The Fresh Market’s expansive prepared seafood program, which includes Seafood Steamer Bags that can be cooked in the oven or microwaved, fresh salmon packaged with cedar planks, and other seafood meals.

Despite closing a handful of locations – the retailer said last summer it would shut down 15 stores – The Fresh Market has honed its fresh seafood category strategy to grow sales. 

“With all of the new innovative, value-added items we have introduced, we are seeing growth and renewed interest across the seafood department,” Tilley said.

Packaging seafood meals in a ceramic ramekin is unique in the U.S. grocery market, Steven Johnson, grocerant guru at Tacoma, Washington, U.S.A.-based consultancy Foodservice Solutions, told SeafoodSource. 

“Very few other retailers offer reusable product bundles. Clearly it is a way to attract millennials with both value and discovery,” Johnson said. “I am glad to see that a grocery store is once again taking a page out of the 'restaurant sectors marketing tool-kit' and adding value to a product by bundling it with a reusable ramekin.”

Offering reusable dishes also helps spur return visits, according to Johnson, similar to fast food restaurants in years past selling soda in reusable glasses so consumers would return to the restaurant to get a complete set. 

“This mix-and-match bundling is a value-added attribute that all fresh food retailers should consider,” Johnson said.

The Fresh Market’s current Seafood Ramekin flavors – expanded from an initial three varieties in early January – include: Seafood Fettuccine, Shrimp & Grits, Oishi Sea Bass, Crab Mac & Cheese, Swordfish Florentine, and Seafood Lasagna. The ramekins retail for between USD 8.99 (EUR 8.03) and USD 10.99 (EUR 9.81) each.

Oishi means “delicious” in Japanese, The Fresh Market said, and the meal includes Chilean sea bass, brown rice, cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms. Its Seafood Lasagna includes shrimp, crab, and vine-ripened tomatoes. 

“We plan to continue to introduce new varieties based on seasonal availability,” Tilley said.

Other “chef-inspired” seafood entrées the retailer offers include Parmesan Crusted Tilapia, Almond Crusted Salmon, Seafood Lasagna, and Coconut Shrimp, which can be purchased in a 12-pack with mango coconut dipping sauce.

Its Seafood Steamer Bags include varieties such as Garlic Dill Atlantic Salmon With Squash, Wild American Shrimp with Old Bay, and Creole Salmon with Cauliflower Rice.

In the summer of 2017, The Fresh Market rolled out a variety of seafood meals that are seasoned and packaged with a cedar plank. The meals included Mediterranean Salmon Plank with Feta Cheese and Brussels Sprouts, and Sweet Chili Salmon Plank with Onion Rings for USD 12.99 (EUR 11.56).

“We are always looking for ways to elevate our seafood offerings and help our guests enjoy their favorite fish and shellfish in a new, flavorful way.  For example, we offer seasoned salmon filets on cedar planks or in steamer bags to help our guests prepare a delicious meal with little to no prep,” Tilley said. “We are focused on being category innovators and want to offer our guests something extraordinary that is going to wow their taste buds.”


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