BOSTON -- Savvy seafood promotions can make shopping more fun, introduce new products and drastically increase profits, according to a panel of retailers who spoke at the International Boston Seafood Show here.
A trio of retail seafood experts, as well as a processor, shared pointers on planning successful promotions and offered a valuable grab bag of their own personal favorites in a session moderated by J. Wain Jackson, the retail marketing director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Juneau.
For Jon Wissmann, seafood and poultry merchandiser for Ball's Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan., one challenge is to build excitement about seafood in a market where the sea is nowhere to be found.
"We try to bring some of the coastal environment to the Midwest," he said. "You want to make a seafood department a destination. Make your ads and promotions an event."
He showed attendees a Ball's ad that spoofed the painting American Gothic by running with the superimposed faces of two of the operation's seafood managers, followed by the tag line: "Fish: An American Tradition."
Wissmann explained that the ad's image had been further embellished by the trout on a line dangling from the woman's hand, and the head of another trout peeking out from the man's breast pocket.
"Another very successful ad is for our April crabfest, which runs two to four weeks and features several types of crab," Wissmann said. "We try to put signage in front of the store, as well as in the seafood department."
Another success for Ball's is what he called a "sizzling summertime shark sale ad, featuring four types of shark. An ad like this allows customers to try something different, and we always put demos out."
The chain has also built promotions around Copper River salmon, with ads "featuring seafood managers as if they pulled it out of the water themselves," said Wissmann. He noted that this promotion also featured shirts, hats and buttons worn by seafood associates for the length of the event. He said that Ball's also "runs teaser ads a couple of weeks in advance."
For any promotion, there are certain critical components. "Quality, variety and stock levels are always key issues for any successful promotion," he explained.
Wissmann also stressed the importance of choosing an appropriate length for each promotion. "You want to be careful you don't lose customer interest," he cautioned.
He also suggested making use of free materials and promotional ideas from agencies like the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. "Take advantage of all your resources," said Wissmann, who added that "T-shirts and hats can be a fairly inexpensive way to promote seafood."
He also told the retailers in attendance that "local news and radio stations are a good means for free publicity."
For Mohammed Jeddy, the seafood director of the Houston-based Fiesta Mart, "having a fun promotion is having a successful promotion." He noted that "to have a successful promotion, we have to create excitement.
"Create an ambiance to celebrate your event with banners, posters, music, demos and T-shirts," Jeddy urged. He also hands out "I Love Seafood at Fiesta" stickers to kids, and fills the sales floor with music. "Without music, there is no promotion," explained Jeddy, who has, on occasion, brought strolling musicians into his stores.
For a Cajun Mardi Gras promotion, Fiesta had its chefs hit the sales floor with festive beads around their necks.
Success can also be measured in the bottom line: money. "To achieve it, you need 100% support and to work together as a team," he said.
According to Daniel LeClech, the supervisor of dairy, deli and seafood at Ronetco Supermarkets, Ledgewood, N.J., which operates stores in New Jersey under the ShopRite banner, "The goal of a successful seafood promotion is to make it a customer-stopping event."
LeClech said that an easy, low-cost way to do this is by simply resetting the seafood case to reflect a special occasion, as ShopRite once did by featuring heart-shaped rings of shrimp for Valentine's Day.
"Out-of-case displays are one way to get the customer to stop and shop your department," said LeClech, who then shared details of a few of his operation's other successful promotions.
"We decided to jump-start our shrimp-platter sales by doing a mailing," said LeClech. That spiraled into actually preparing shrimp and crab platters right on the sales floor. "Now we have a strong shrimp-platter business all year."
LeClech then showed a slide of a huge Buster the Crab draped over the top of one of his stores, all part of a major crab promotion [see SN, July 14, 1997] that increased crab sales by 125% in a four-week period.
Although the Buster that ShopRite used is quite large, LeClech cautioned that "crab placement is critical; it has to give the customer the impression that it's monstrous."
"A promotional like this takes a lot of planning and support," he said, noting that crab-promotion plans were under way for at least six to eight weeks before it began.
"We put crab decals on the floor that customers followed to the seafood department," said LeClech. ShopRite, he noted, also set up demos, cooking classes with local chefs and "picture-taking sessions outside with kids. We had lines of people waiting to take pictures. We set up raffles with daily drawings for King crab platters or Buster T-shirts."
LeClech said his operation also featured a live display of crabs and lobsters, and seafood departments "decorated with anything to do with crab."
Unfortunately, the in-store crab races didn't go over as well as LeClech had hoped; they were marred by protests from animal-rights activists.
For such a large event, LeClech stressed the need "to pick a theme, get the financial considerations out of the way and inform the local municipalities -- or they might not be happy when they see a giant crab on your store."
LeClech also urged retailers "to involve the print media in everything," while also alluding to the importance of "taking a lot of notes about what worked and didn't work."
"A promotion has to be something we're going to get very enthusiastic about," said Rich Polins, the president of Landlock Seafood Company, a fresh-seafood processor and distributor based in Carrollton, Texas, kicking off his list of recommendations on how to organize a successful seafood promotion.
He said it was important to keep in mind that "at the end of the day, the objective is to increase sales." He then outlined a multistep plan to achieve those additional sales.
Polins suggested that when retailers are determining what to promote, issues such as product specifications, availability, retail selling price and revenue mix must all be taken into consideration. "The promotion needs to have a range of components, and price has to play a role," he advised.
The next step, according to Polins, is deciding how to promote the product. The range of options that retailers have available to them, Polins noted, include newspaper, radio and television advertising; in-store circulars; employee hats and buttons; recipe cards; shopping bags; and direct mail. Cooking demonstrations and sampling were also good methods to promote seafood, he said.
Once the strategic planning is under way, "promote the promotion. Get everyone involved. Spend time selling the promotion to your people," he said. "Establish a contest for store-winning displays and sales results. Think big!"
However, "the bigger the promotion, the more impact it has and the more planning it requires," Polins cautioned during a question-and-answer session following the panelists' presentations. And while "price is a component, there is, as we heard, a lot more to it than price."