NFI TO GAUGE SUPPORT FOR PROMOTION

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The National Fisheries Institute here will be surveying seafood industry members this summer to measure their support for a generic advertising and promotional campaign that it will likely propose later this year.A sample of retailers contacted by SN said they were glad to hear of NFI's initiative."I think any kind of campaign where seafood gets positive publicity is great," said

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The National Fisheries Institute here will be surveying seafood industry members this summer to measure their support for a generic advertising and promotional campaign that it will likely propose later this year.

A sample of retailers contacted by SN said they were glad to hear of NFI's initiative.

"I think any kind of campaign where seafood gets positive publicity is great," said Ronald Hirt, director of appetizing and seafood for Inserra Supermarkets, Mahwah, N.J.

Dave Lewis, seafood supervisor at Zallies Supermarkets, Clementon, N.J., agreed.

"Anything we can do to further customer awareness can only help sales," he said.

The NFI has been looking into the feasibility of such a campaign since April of last year and is expected to present the findings of its survey and make a recommendation to its board of directors in November, according to Clare Vanderbeek, vice president of communications.

Although the details of the campaign have not been determined, it would probably span several years and be funded by domestic importers and processors, said Vanderbeek.

An NFI task force will be interviewing both industry segments over the next few months to determine their level of support, she said. They will also research customer attitudes toward seafood.

Retailers polled by SN indicated they are especially interested in the campaign's potential to bolster consumer education.

"The main obstacle to selling seafood is the lack of consumer education," said John Darda, assistant vice president of seafood at Food-A-Rama, Randallstown, Md.

"Consumers are used to cooking hamburgers and steaks -- but seafood is neither."

Hirt of Inserra Supermarkets agreed. "I think one of the key drawbacks to seafood sales is that people don't know what to do with the fish once they buy it," he said. "That's why seafood sales are so much higher in restaurants."

One example of what consumer education can do for seafood sales can be seen at Food-A-Rama's six Metro Supermarkets, according to Darda.

Sales have increased 80% since the company started sampling seafood daily.

"Instead of selling a couple of pounds a day, we're selling a couple boxes a day," he said.

Lewis of Zallie's Supermarkets is also a firm believer in educating consumers.

"I definitely think the biggest problem is that people don't know what to do with the fish they buy," he said, adding that there are other educational obstacles to mount.

"If a person buys a Mako shark and doesn't like the taste, he may not realize that there are other species of shark," he said.

If the NFI's national seafood campaign becomes a reality, it won't be the first time such a campaign has supported the seafood industry.

A campaign that featured the slogan "Eat Fish Twice a Week" was implemented by the National Fish and Seafood Promotional Council and ran for about two years, before ending in 1991.

Although seafood sales increased during that period of time, it's difficult to gauge how much of the increase was directly related to the campaign, said Vanderbeek.

While the campaign was a "success at creating consumer awareness and excitement, it didn't last long enough to sustain the momentum," she said.

Although the retailers contacted by SN said they couldn't remember specific sales increases tied to that campaign, they're confident of its impact.

"I don't remember the sales figures for that period of time, but there must have been some type of increase," said Hirt of Inserra Supermarkets. "Any kind of media attention presented in a positive light helps increase sales.

"Unfortunately, most of the recent attention hasn't been positive," he added. "Maybe this will help restore the balance."