The multitude of potential sales triggers in supermarket seafood departments is making signage an increasing important marketing vehicle.
Indeed, such messaging is crucial for expanding seafood sales as, unlike most other food categories, many shoppers aren’t knowledgeable about or comfortable purchasing and preparing seafood, said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing LLC, a Gurnee, Ill.-based retail consulting, research, and education firm.
“Signage is critical as it is the only viable way retailers have to interact with customers in stores other than by one-on-one communication,” he said.
Effective signage also is vital because of the need to educate shoppers on the plethora of issues influencing purchasing, including such newer considerations as if the seafood was harvested in a sustainable and dolphin-safe manner, Wisner said. “That is making today’s signage more important than in the past,” he said.
In addition, signage can indicate other factors increasingly important to shoppers, such as if the fish is wild caught or farmed raised; the seafood’s region of origin; if the seafood is frozen onboard ship to maintain maximum freshness; and how soon the store receives the seafood after harvesting.
“Retailers need to communicate and validate the message of freshness at the seafood case,” Wisner said.
Supermarkets also can create a sense of buying urgency by using signage to spotlight feature pricing or announcing seasonal items that are temporarily in stock, he added.
Wisner Marketing research, meanwhile, found that shoppers are more receptive to signs with recipe suggestions in the seafood department than other areas of the store. Operators can educate customers on preparation procedures through such vehicles as tear-off pads or sheets that they situate at the top of the seafood counter or in plastic holders at the self-service case, Wisner said.
Retailers using such tools include Chicago-based Mariano’s, which operates 45 Chicago-area outlets. Recently, Mariano’s promoted its organic salmon filets that were on special with counter-top signage spotting the price and attributes like being farm raised and locally developed, along with being fed an organic non-GMO diet while free of antibiotics or growth hormones.
The product also was spotlighted as having received a “best choice” ranking by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, which sets sustainability standards for fishing and aquaculture practices.
Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets, meanwhile, which operates 107 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and North Carolina, recently used refrigerated case signage to emphasize the health aspects of its seafood. It noted, for instance, that the store’s fresh Atlantic salmon contains heart healthy omega 3 nutrients.
A variety of signage types can sway consumer purchasing as well. Situating a blackboard on the wall behind the seafood counter with messaging in chalk, for instance, is a subtle way to communicate freshness by listing the products that just arrived and updating the data daily or at least weekly, which enables many shoppers to a view a new message each time they visit the department, Wisner said.
Retailers, however, should adjust messaging in accordance with the demographics of the local shopper base, he stated. Highlighting feature pricing, for instance, is effective in attracting cost-conscious consumers, while stores in ethnic neighborhoods can emphasize the seafood that is most popular with area residents, Wisner said.
Persons who are less price sensitive can receive messages that stress the eating experience, such as “great on the grill,” he added.
Merchandisers will benefit as well by providing ample information about the lesser-known seafood that is becoming more prevalent in stores, such as barramundi, with such data as product texture and flavor most important.
Yet, despite the benefits of leveraging signage to enhance product appeal, retailers need to be cautious about cluttering the seafood department with excessive messages, he said. “If everything tries to stand out, nothing stands out,” Wisner said. “There must be context in which consumers see the information. Splattering twenty different messages on the back wall is not going to do it for you. It is better to have four signs on the back and four in the case as opposed to eight in one location.”
Operators, he added, should follow their instincts when determining the optimal amount of signage to display.
“You will know when it is too much,” Wisner said. “The bottom line is: if it looks cluttered, it is cluttered.”
In addition, it’s vital that retailers omit words or topics that may give shoppers a negative perception about seafood, such as “mercury,” even when stressing that products are free of such elements. “There are some issues you don’t want to bring up in the consumer’s decision cycle,” he stated.