KULPSVILLE, Pa. -- Clemens Markets here has created a wave of excitement in its seafood departments with a grilling demo that officials hope will keep propelling sales upward.
At one Clemens unit, sales zoomed up 40% on the day Evie Hansen, marketing director for National Seafood Educators, marinated and grilled halibut steaks, tilapia, and mako shark steaks.
"It was a very warm day, typically not good shopping weather. But still we had a banner day in the seafood department," said Michael Miller, director of seafood for the 19-unit Clemens.
Hansen offered customers tastes of the fish and talked to them about how quick and easy it is to cook the fish on the grill. She was at the store an entire Saturday afternoon.
"It created excitement in the department. People flocked there to see what was going on, and ended up buying something. I was surprised at the number of people, and the sales were great, up 40% over the previous Saturday," Miller added.
"I think people are hungry for information about how to prepare seafood. It's relatively expensive -- at least it seems that way to customers when they see boneless chicken breasts across the aisle for $1.99 a pound -- so they're particularly afraid they'll ruin it by not cooking it right."
Hansen held grilling demos at two other Clemens Markets that same weekend. One of them was at Foodsource by Clemens, the chain's fresh-format store in Bryn Mawr, Pa. That's one thing we haven't done in seafood. One of the things I keep driving home to our seafood managers is to get out and talk to customers. I tell them not to wait till they're asked questions, but get out and talk about the product," Miller said.
He added that most customers who watched Hansen grill were impressed that it was so simple. Hansen pointed out to customers, for example, that she was grilling the halibut steaks just five minutes on each side.
"They tend to think it's more complicated than it is, so they need to be told or shown that it isn't. Seafood doesn't sell itself, but the best part is you don't need a lot of experience to sell it. A 17-year-old clerk can tell a customer that you brush this steak with oil and grill it five minutes a side," Miller said.
He said this was the first time Clemens had enlisted Hansen's on-site help. The three-day, Thursday-through-Saturday event was heralded with posters just inside the entrance to the stores.
"The posters, with a picture of Evie, just said that Evie Hansen, seafood expert, would be here to talk to customers about cooking fish. We put the posters up about two weeks ahead."
The chain also had sent notices to area newspapers and at least two of them ran a story about the upcoming Hansen visit.
The event gave Clemens a good opportunity to cross-merchandise, too, Miller said. It assembled a whole display of related items at the tabletop grill that Hansen had set up in the seafood department at each store. There were private-label marinades and spices and even the olive oil she was using on the grill.
"The first thing Evie did when she got here was go down the grocery aisle picking up things that would make sense to merchandise at the grill. We also sold a lot of Evie's books," Miller said, referring to "Seafood Twice a Week," Hansen's book of recipes and cooking instructions that's published by Seafood Educators.
The collaborative effort with National Seafood Educators, which is based in Richmond Beach, Wash., is just the most recent event Clemens has orchestrated since it put a new focus on improving seafood sales and profits. A year and a half ago, the retailer made a commitment to making its seafood departments superior to any in the market. At that time, it split seafood from meat and poultry and made it a separate department.
The retailer also hired Miller, formerly a seafood coordinator at Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., to head it.
Miller added that the key to a seafood department's success lies in a retailer's commitment to educating the public about the health benefits of eating seafood at least once a week, and showing consumers how easy it is to cook it. Both can be accomplished most easily through in-store demo events, he said.