Supermarkets across the country felt the impact of this summer’s gulf oil spill, but none felt it more than Rouses, the Thibodeaux, Louisiana-based chain that stakes so much of its identity to local seafood. Supplies took a hit, as did their customer’s confidence — and yet, the family-owned company persevered. Now, the government has proclaimed gulf seafood safe to eat, and Rouses is back on a roll. Seafood director James Breuhl elaborated in a recent interview.
Talk about how the oil spill affected your stores this summer, and how you reacted.
Everything that happened affected us on the supply side. We’re now coming back with more supply. Just this week we’re getting Louisiana oysters back in store, which is a great thing because for Thanksgiving just about every family in Louisiana makes their own oyster dressing. Crab meat, crawfish and shrimp we never ran out of because we had enough frozen or pasteurized. We were also able to go up to Seattle and source a lot of frozen products that were value-added, then bring them back to Louisiana and spin it as “bringing the best from the West”.
How did you communicate with your shoppers on the issue?
We’ve done a huge campaign from day one when the spill happened, informing the customer that our seafood is guaranteed 100% safe. We hung up posters, we’ve done radio and TV commercials. We’ve also done a lot of newscasts locally to talk about our process of securing product and making sure it’s safe to eat. All of that has reassured our customers tremendously.
What about the ones who are still hesitant?
There is and will always be hesitation from some customers. But I would say to them that seafood is probably safer now than it’s ever been, because now you have that many more eyes and hands inspecting the product before it reaches the shelf.
So with all this in mind, what’s selling well right now for you?
Consumers are buying a lot more frozen items, particularly frozen shrimp. We have a Rouses’ frozen shrimp program, and that’s in a one-pound bag. That product is up 60% over last year. We’re moving about 50,000 pounds of peeled meat every month right now.
Parting shot — sustainability, sustainably caught seafood. Is that something your customers are looking for in the South?
We’ve tapped into that some, but we haven’t seen a huge customer demand for it, so we haven’t gone after it aggressively. It hasn’t been a big initiative in the South yet, but I think in another two or three years you’re going to see it work it’s way down here.