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Now is the time to examine retail seafood programs

Grocers should be able to substantially increase their share of food service seafood…if they can adjust to the realities of the current market

Joseph photo_1.jpgJoseph Sabbagh is the president of Sax Maritime Associates, which has been offering consulting services to those invested or considering investing in the seafood industry since 1985. Clients have included significant retailers, restaurants, producers, distributors, private equity, and environmental concerns.

My previous post on stagnant per capita seafood consumption in no way means I am predicting doom for supermarket seafood. Just as the grocery industry adjusted to the rise in seafood demand in the 80’s and 90’s, I believe it is now time to examine retail seafood programs to adjust to the realities of the current market. Seafood consumption is zip code or even neighborhood specific. 

Some grocers may not see a need to change and may be happy with the returns of their current programs. In most cases, a one size or program fits very few in retail seafood. I predict that those grocers that adjust their current seafood merchandising schematics and operations for today’s seafood consumer will be the leaders in a new wave of seafood retail.

My intention with these posts is to provide insights to the entire grocery industry on how to drive revenue using seafood. For starters, I suggest the grocery industry escalate the reduction in their ice case footprint. Most likely, some grocers are thinking about or have already started changing existing store sets or designs. I see expanding seafood sales in the deli, sushi, grab and go and prepared as being more inline with current and future consumer trends. Those departments are doing well and merchandising more seafood items will make them do even better.

For now there is no better place to start than ready to eat seafood sold out of the seafood case.

Grocers should begin a gradual transfer of all ready to eat seafood from the meat and seafood case to the deli, sushi, grab and go, and prepared foods sections. The extent and speed depends on the grocers’ current programs and future plans. The seafood department is the only department in the store that has unwrapped ready to eat and raw proteins in the same department, much less the same full service display case. Too often only separated by a piece of plexiglass sticking up a few inches above the ice bed. 

Ready to eat and raw seafood from the “fresh” case are stored together and handled by the same staff. I do not see raw chicken breast next to the chicken salad in the deli case or roast beef sandwich next to raw rump in the meat case. Cross merchandising ready to eat and raw food in the same case is wrong on every level and long past its expiration date in retail seafood. 

I also see grocers being able to increase their share of food service seafood starting with their current and some new ready to eat items especially in the QSR, Fast Casual and Dinner House sectors. My justification is that for the last 15 years (not counting the pandemic), consumers with a higher level of extra food dollars are more interested in eating food prepared outside the home more than ever. 

That means buying more heat and eat or ordering for delivery or picking up ready to eat. In addition, the QSR Fast Casual and Dinner House sectors do not offer as many seafood choices at the price levels of well run grocery foodservice operators. I have had some significant seafood centric food service clients and interacted with many others while providing service to producers and distributors. Hopefully after this post, that will continue. 

In my next post, I’ll talk about why I think it’s important to merchandise all CPG frozen and more ambient seafood in the seafood department. I understand I am proposing major changes and investment with a lot of moving parts and team member considerations. There are many factors the grocery industry can not control and even more the seafood industry can not control. However, like all businesses, grocers can control what is happening within the four walls of their stores and offices. To make more money from seafood, take a look deep within. Thanks for reading.

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