SEATTLE -- Central Market -- offering free cholesterol screening and free bone density testing in its seafood department -- is looking to help consumers make the connection between eating fish and staying healthy.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in high concentration in salmon and tuna, help lower cholesterol levels, research has shown. In fact, a year and a half ago, the American Heart Association issued guidelines that recommend eating fish high in omega-3s twice a week. In addition, salmon is particularly rich in calcium, which is needed for healthy bones, nutritionists point out.
The problem is that many consumers don't know these things, or at least, don't think about them often.
"People don't necessarily understand what omega-3s are.They hear about them, but they don't know what foods to eat to get them," said Denise Englade, seafood specialist for Town & Country Markets, which operates two stores under the Central Market banner and four others.
Town & Country teamed up with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Juneau, and National Seafood Educators, Richmond Beach, Wash., to offer the in-store testing as a service to its customers. Nurses administered the tests, and ASMI paid for their services and for the rental of equipment.
The key to making the project successful is pairing the testing stations with a demo station and situating them all next to seafood displays, Englade said.
Response was good at both units of Central Market last month. Englade said people were lined up all day to get tested. Some of them went directly to the seafood counter to buy salmon or tuna, but all of them took away literature that explains what omega-3 fatty acids are, what foods contain them and what their benefits are.
"We didn't expect to get an immediate bump in sales. That will come later. This is an educational process. They don't all do it the same day, but I do have people coming to the counter now, days later, asking which fish would be best for lowering their cholesterol. Some have their test results in their hands," Englade said.
While ASMI works often with retailers on promoting Alaska seafood, this is a new approach.
"This represents a little different focus for ASMI this year. In a survey, we found that retailers are looking for help in educating their customers," said Sandy Stang, ASMI's retail marketing representative for the West.
"Omega-3s: That's the buzzword these days, but we don't know if consumers know what they are, or if they know the relationship between them and eating enough fish."
Stang stressed that for those reasons it was important that the testing be done in the seafood department, that a printout of test results be given to customers on the spot, and that appropriate educational literature be given to them.
"Most salmon has more fat than other fish, but it's the kind that's good for you, essential fatty acids. People aren't getting enough of them. The recommendation is to eat seafood twice a week, but that's really just the minimum," Stang said.
The demo stations at Central Market were important because they showed how easy it is to cook fish, Englade said. She pointed out that fresh, frozen and canned salmon were featured.
Boneless salmon fillets were sauteed in olive oil and lemon pepper.
"People loved those. They also were interested to find out that canned salmon [as well as fresh and frozen] is a good calcium source," said Evie Hansen, marketing director at National Seafood Educators.
"February is Heart Month and March is National Nutrition Month. Stores are in a health mode," she said of the promotion's timing.