BOSTON SHOW HOOKS INTEREST WITH SEAFOOD SALES LURES

BOSTON -- Seafood retailers were hunting for new product ideas and trends among the three packed floors of stalls at the International Boston Seafood Show.In interviews on the show floor, retailers and other attendees told SN they'd hooked some good ones, too, such as value-added and meals-oriented products, and salmon in many forms.They said the show appeared bigger and more sophisticated than in

BOSTON -- Seafood retailers were hunting for new product ideas and trends among the three packed floors of stalls at the International Boston Seafood Show.

In interviews on the show floor, retailers and other attendees told SN they'd hooked some good ones, too, such as value-added and meals-oriented products, and salmon in many forms.

They said the show appeared bigger and more sophisticated than in years past, and that it reflected important developments in technology and display equipment related to seafood merchandising.

"Every year it's different," noted Robert Biagi, director of enterprise development at New Hope Seafood, Holyoke, Mass., which markets Massachusetts aquaculture fish to restaurants and retailers. "This year it's a lot more sophisticated."

"I have been coming here for five years and I am always getting new information," said David Cost, president of Short Line Fish, a fish market in Truro, Mass.

"It's my first time here and I'm impressed," said Rickard Almgren, a buyer for San Mateo, Calif.-based NAF International, who sources American products for about 10,000 stores in Europe.

John Peter, the meat manager at the Guilford Food Center, a supermarket in Guilford, Conn., commented that although the show "seems to cater to wholesalers and larger merchants, it gave me a little more insight about what's available."

This year's show, according to Lionel Davila, the general manager at New Hope, was "bigger and offered a lot more technology like packaging machines, [such as one] . . . uses a vacuum for fish."

Dave Swanson, the president of Swanson's Seafood House, a five-unit chain of seafood stores based in Monroe, Conn., said that this year's exposition offered a lot of new display ideas like showcases, curved glass and tanks.

Looking around the show floor, Glenn Davison, the chief executive officer of retailer Salett's in Newton Highlands, Mass., noted that "The variety of seafood available is phenomenal and it has grown. The whole industry has progressed and there are more value-added products."

Items like the "nicely arranged frozen shrimp rings are something they hadn't offered [before]. Most markets would have to make their own," pointed out Lou Mishoulam, vice president of operations at Chicago-based Gourmet Gram, a mail-order company.

"It seems like there are a lot more prepared foods and things you could put in a microwave," Dan Zawacki, Gourmet Gram's senior lobster consultant, told SN.

New Hope's Biagi concurred that the "processed foods have gotten more sophisticated." His colleague Carol Biagi noted "the use of more spices in the preparation of foods. Americans' taste is changing and a lot of products are bland."

Biagi also noted that "The calamari table had more selections than ever before; there must have been eight of them."

Almgren of NAF found the meals-oriented selections less interesting than he expected. Many retailers, however, said they found more appealing offerings than they had seen at past shows.

Salett's Davison noted several combinations of fish with starch; and Guilford's Peter raved about new stuffed clams casino from supplier Seafood Gourmet. He said that his operations already carried Seafood Gourmet's clams, scallops and seafood scampi.

An abundance of salmon -- from fillets and spice-encrusted smoked versions to burgers and sausages -- was a major part of this year's show, attendees said.

"The baby boomers are eating it," explained Barbara Babbitt, the seafood manager at White Water Seafood, a seafood market in Tiverton, R.I.

Guilford's Peter said with so many "different kinds of smoked salmon, I don't have to settle for North Atlantic; I can go for Icelandic."

There was so much salmon displayed at the exposition that Ken Porter, an owner of Roy Moore Lobster Co. and Fish Shack Restaurant, a restaurant and retail outlet in Rockport, Maine, wagered that "They may drop the prices of salmon."

Quantity doesn't ensure quality, however; retailer Swanson expressed his disinterest in the salmon offerings, explaining that "I buy my salmon from a guy in Maine, whose fish are always beautiful."

Almgren, who said he had come to the show specifically looking for value-added salmon such as burgers, thought the salmon varieties were "competitive for whole salmon, but not as much with value-added."

Jenkins of Roy Moore, bemoaned the fact that "everything is smoked." Although he professed to have nothing against smoked fish, said he was "sorry to see the raw stuff go."

Swanson didn't agree that smoked fish was crowding fresh off the floor, and he noted that overall there had been "more fish in the last two years. We are seeing more orange roughy, turbot, sea bass and tilapia."

New Hope's Robert Biagi also thought the selection was growing and praised the range of seafood, like rock and Thai shrimp, exhibited this year.

In addition to edible denizens of the sea, the show also offered a wide range of seafood technology, from ice machines to packaging equipment.

Carol Biagi of New Hope noted that the different methods of refrigeration on display were innovative. And Robert Biagi expressed his interest in a separating machine that he'd seen for fish frames.

Yun Young, the owner of Han Ah Reum Supermarkets, a seven-store chain in New York and New Jersey, was one retailer who was less than pleased with what he was seeing, lamenting, through an interpreter, that "We are trying to find something that's interesting to our customers. Maybe they should think more of Oriental products."