SEAFOOD TWICE A WEEK

DALLAS -- The American Heart Association here has for the first time specifically recommended eating two servings of fish weekly -- particularly fish high in Omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon -- and retailers are enthusiastic about how that pronouncement might affect their sales.D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Tidyman's, Greenacres, Wash.; and Sendik's Food Market, Whitefish Bay, Wis., are

DALLAS -- The American Heart Association here has for the first time specifically recommended eating two servings of fish weekly -- particularly fish high in Omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon -- and retailers are enthusiastic about how that pronouncement might affect their sales.

D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Tidyman's, Greenacres, Wash.; and Sendik's Food Market, Whitefish Bay, Wis., are among the retailers who said they'll definitely use the AHA's positive comments about seafood in their marketing efforts.

Meanwhile, National Seafood Educators in Richmond Beach, Wash., is rushing to distribute "Seafood Twice A Week" materials.

"We have an entire campaign almost ready that's patterned after Five A Day," said Evie Hansen, director of marketing for National Seafood Educators. "We were poised to launch it for February, Heart Month, but now we're going to do it sooner.

"Our Seafood Twice A Week kit has a variety of educational components. There are printed materials and tips retailers can use to educate customers,"

The NSE has published a cookbook, "Seafood Twice A Week," which many retailers already sell in their seafood departments.

Most of the supermarket officials SN interviewed said they'll definitely take advantage of the Heart Association's new eat-seafood-twice-a-week guidelines to educate their customers -- and sell fish.

At D&W Food Centers, Bill Bonzheim, the 26-unit chain's seafood director, expressed confidence that the new Heart Association guidelines will give seafood sales a shot in the arm, and he said D&W would use the AHA's health-related statements in a number of ways to help it market its seafood.

"This is just outstanding news for our industry. I'd equate it to what Five A Day has done for produce. I've no doubt whatsoever that Five A Day has done wonders for produce sales and this could do it for seafood," Bonzheim said.

He was particularly happy that the guidelines mention the fatty fishes like salmon because, he said, salmon is already a top seller, and he expects the news will push sales further.

"Such news coming from the Heart Association gives our customers one more reason to buy seafood," he said.

Bonzheim said he'll probably post the news about the guidelines on D&W's Internet site, use the Heart Association logo on signs and packaging, and might even generate a press release to tie D&W and the Heart Association together in the local consumer press.

"We have a pretty good relationship with the local press and we already work with our local Heart Association on a number of things. We're looking to heighten that relationship."

Glen Hedlund, director of perishables at Tidyman's, said he will make copies of the Heart Association guidelines themselves and of local newspaper articles about them to hand out to customers. With a new and aggressive seafood merchandising plan already under way, Hedlund also said he'll probably use POS materials that call attention to the recommendation to eat seafood twice a week.

Tidyman's operates 12 stores under the Tidyman's banner, one IGA store and eight others under the Country Market banner.

"Anytime there's national news like this, it raises consumers' awareness. It will certainly enhance seafood sales. Salmon is the backbone of our seafood business, so this recommendation is particularly good news," Hedlund said.

News of the AHA guidelines was particularly well-received by management at Sendik's Food Market in Whitefish Bay, Wis. While the full-line independent grocer has built a large, fresh seafood business that makes it a standout in the market area, educating its customers continues to be a challenge, said store manager Nick Balistreri, whose family owns three Sendik's stores in the area.

"Here in the Midwest, educating the consumer about seafood is crucial. People are hesitant so you have to encourage them," said Balistreri, adding that he has doubled seafood sales in the last two years by increasing the variety he offers and sampling the items regularly.

He said he would definitely use POS materials that officially tout the health benefits of seafood. He pointed out he began carrying the "Seafood Twice A Week" cookbook six months ago, and it's been a hit with his customers.

"We sell a lot of those cookbooks. People see that they can cook a heart-healthy meal in a very short time. Now, I have people coming in with their cookbook in hand to show us what they need for a recipe. They're trying new things."

While the general feeling among retailers was that the AHA guidelines will be a boon to seafood sales, one all-natural foods merchant expressed doubt as to the effect the guidelines would have on business.

"It's certainly a positive message, but I don't know if those messages are really meaningful to consumers. I think they're a little tired of all the health messages," said Phil Nabors, co-owner of the two-unit Mustard Seed Market & Cafe, Akron, Ohio.

The Heart Association's Year 2000 Guidelines, outlined in its Oct. 31 issue of "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association," stress overall eating patterns, rather than focusing on percentages of dietary fat or other nutrients as its earlier guidelines did. In addition to recommending that everybody eat fish twice a week, the association names tuna and salmon as good choices.

"One of the great things about the new guidelines is that they send a clear, concise message, one that's easy to remember," said Hansen at National Seafood Educators.

And that's the whole idea, a Heart Association representative said.

"It's hard to think about what percentage of dinner comes from saturated fat. It's much easier to think about the various food groups," said Ronald M. Krauss, M.D., the principal author of the guidelines and a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California.

Krauss was referring to the association's earlier guidelines that advised people to limit their consumption of saturated fat to 10% of calories consumed.

"In the past, we have focused rather heavily on the percent of calories as fat and the amounts of cholesterol. These are still important considerations but the emphasis has shifted to allow consumers to understand the importance of an overall eating plan," Krauss said in a statement when the guidelines were released.

The main goals of the new guidelines are to help Americans achieve an overall healthy eating pattern, achieve and maintain an appropriate body weight, reach a desirable cholesterol profile and establish a healthy blood pressure level, Krauss said.