RANCHO DOMINGUEZ, Calif. — AFC Sushi, a pioneer in bringing sushi to supermarkets, is marking its 25th anniversary in the U.S. food retailing arena with the launch of a new hybrid line that retailers say is a customer-pleaser. The new line was launched last fall, and is now being rolled out to U.S. stores in phases.
Having started with Vons in Southern California in 1986, and then shortly afterward partnering with H.E. Butt Grocery Co.  in San Antonio, AFC (Advanced Fresh Concepts) now has sushi operations in 2,500 supermarkets across the country.
When sushi first started becoming popular in the U.S., mostly in the restaurant world, some retailers tried their own sushi bars, hiring local sushi chefs, but many of those later partnered with AFC.
“We've had them for 11 years, as long as we've been at this location, and we've been very happy working with them,” said Tracy Anthony, general manager of single-unit Clements' Marketplace, Portsmouth, R.I.
“Our customers rave about their products, and especially about the variety they offer. The company does a lot of innovating. Also, customers know that they can get something made for them that they might not see in the case,” Anthony told SN.
Anthony also commented on the new hybrid line.
“We think it's super. People are always looking for something different, and this is it. Sales are growing.”
A new customer favorite is tropical mango tempura shrimp. The new products, featuring the likes of tropical salads and seared sea bass, are merchandised in new configurations, AFC's director of sales and marketing, Kevin Barton, told SN.
“The additional products, in new packaging, display well and have broadened our audience,” Barton said.
He added that some retailers who have devoted most of their sushi case space to the new products are experiencing sales gains of 25% to 35%.
The new packaging features a metallic blue matte designed to reflect light and draw the eye to the sushi case, Barton said.
AFC's founder and president, Ryuji Ishii, who was born and raised in Japan, missed sushi when he came to this country, he told SN.
While sushi was commonplace in Japan in all kinds of venues, it could only be found in high-priced restaurants in the States.
“When I founded AFC, sushi — my favorite food — was served only at fancy Japanese restaurants and it was quite pricey. I wanted to enjoy the fresh and quality sushi myself at an affordable price.”
That's why he thought of supplying supermarkets.
“Prior to approaching supermarkets with my plan, I studied thoroughly and worked on the market strategy based on many factors, including the demographic profiles,” Ishii said.
“It was not difficult to convince them because the supermarket shoppers in the areas I selected to approach had higher income levels compared with others and were already familiar with sushi at restaurants.”