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The seafood shoppers have spoken: and they want quality

Freshness is one of the top factors in consumer purchasing decisions

When it comes to the merchandising of fresh seafood, it often doesn’t matter if the price is right.

Despite a substantial increase in seafood prices in recent years, many of the most frequent seafood eaters still list quality, which includes freshness, as the top factor in their buying decisions, said Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for Arlington, Va.-based FMI—The Food Industry Association.

Frequent seafood buyers who eat seafood at least twice a week and are the main drivers of category sales are often oblivious to price when shopping for selections, Stein said.

“The bottom line is that no matter what it costs, if they are not getting quality, they do not want it,” Stein said, noting that seafood shoppers who eat seafood one or twice a month are more price conscious.

According to FMI’s recent Power of Seafood report, a consumer survey examining the top elements that shoppers consider when buying seafood, quality was listed as the most important factor, followed by taste or flavor, total price, and price per pound.

Sixty-nine percent of consumers also indicated that freshness had a major impact on their likelihood of purchasing and eating seafood, compared to 21% who said it had a minor impact.

Attracting the frequent quality-conscious seafood shopper to the seafood department is also vital because of their greater purchasing throughout the store. Frequent seafood eaters spend an average of $184 a week on groceries versus $174 for the occasional seafood shopper and $152 for the non-seafood consumer. There is an average spend of $99 when seafood is in the basket versus $48 without seafood, the Power of Seafood states.

Quality-minded shoppers also have more resources. The average annual household income for frequent seafood buyers is $89,000, versus $83,000 for occasional seafood shoppers and $63,000 for non-seafood consumers.

The quality-minded shoppers also have a greater interest in how recently the seafood was caught; its area of origin; and the time it took for the seafood to reach the store after leaving the water, Stein said.

In addition, quality is among the key factors that consumers consider when assessing a seafood product’s overall value, he said, adding that additional aspects include nutritional benefits and sustainability.

It is crucial, however, that retailers disclose a product’s quality elements to shoppers if they are to boost sales, Stein said, with verbal communications by seafood department associates achieving the greatest results.

“Having a seafood monger at the counter to talk about how stores source the product, great ways to prepare it, and the item’s flavor profile can help the consumer engage in the category,” he said. “Seafood requires a high level of engagement because it has a lower household penetration in comparison to such fresh categories as produce and meat.”

While retailers can further spotlight product quality with messaging on the company’s app and via instore signage, there will be a lower payback from such efforts, Stein said. “There are hundreds of thousands of signs in a supermarket, but the average consumer is not reading much of it. Nothing beats a conversation with an employee.”

Stores that attain a reputation for quality also can gain an edge in the increasingly competitive retail landscape which has a wide range of seafood purchasing channels, including supermarkets, specialty stores, discount outlets, and warehouse clubs, Stein said. “The challenge is how to resonate with the consumers who have all these choices of where they can go,” he said. “Part of that is your overall reputation and that is not built or destroyed overnight unless there is a food safety issue.”

It is vital as well for quality-minded retailers to spotlight the sustainable practices that their suppliers follow in bringing seafood to market, Stein said. “Sustainability is table stakes now,” he said. “Retailers have to show their customers that they are committed to a sustainable supply chain as it is fundamental to the category.”

Consumers often associate the term “sustainability” with such characteristics as “fresh,” “lasts long,” and “healthy,” and the frequent and more quality-conscious shoppers are more likely than the occasional seafood buyers to consider a product’s sustainable attributes when shopping for seafood, the Power of Seafood states.

Having a consistent supply of quality seafood in stores and the means to verbally communicate the attributes to shoppers can be challenging, however, as retailers must support a complicated supply chain while facing labor shortages, Stein said.

“Doing all the things necessary to ensure there is a sustainable supply chain means a lot of work and it also puts much cost in the system,” he said, noting that such work includes taking steps to source products as quickly as possible. “But doing what it takes to build a reputation for freshness and quality will go a long way,” Stein said.

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