BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Sam's Club here is testing the waters with sushi at six of its California locations.
Four to 6 linear feet of refrigerated cases with packs of sushi were unveiled last weekend at the six test sites. All sushi pieces offered at Sam's are made from fully cooked ingredients. At least for now.
"We don't want to scare customers away with raw fish," said Kevin Barton, marketing coordinator for Advanced Fresh Concepts, Long Beach, Calif. AFC is the supplier of sushi at Sam's and at more than 200 supermarkets.
"People who haven't eaten it before have some strange ideas about sushi. They just think of raw fish and some even believe it involves eating fish heads and things like that," Barton added.
Barton said sushi at Sam's would be given a four-month trial. "We'd like to sell 70 to 80 units a day from each store. We would call that a success. Then possibly we would expand to other stores."
During the weekend of the sushi debut at Sam's, the product was sampled at a demo station from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Unlike some of AFC's supermarket locations, no sushi chef is on site at Sam's. But the product is made fresh at AFC's facility and delivered each morning. Labels call attention to that.
Why do AFC and Sam's think the sushi will succeed? "Our sushi is very successful in supermarket locations, and we know sushi has been received well at some Price/Costco locations in southern California," Barton said. AFC is not the sushi supplier for Price/Costco, a warehouse club chain based in Kirkland, Wash.
Executives at Price/Costco could not be reached for comment.
"We also pay close attention to demographics at each location," Barton said. He added that the Sam's test sites, all in or near Los Angeles, are adjacent to middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods.
Officials at Sam's Club, a subsidiary of Wal-Mart here, could not be reached for comment.
Just two types of 12-piece variety packs of sushi are offered at Sam's. One, called the California Classic, contains six pieces of giant California roll, and six pieces of medium-sized California roll. The giant is 2.5 inches in diameter and the medium is about 1.75 inches.
California roll sushi is AFC's best seller no matter what the location, the company said. It contains cucumber, avocado, imitation crab meat, and sushi rice, and is wrapped in dried seaweed.
The other sushi package offered at Sam's is called the Ultimate Shrimp Combo. It also features six pieces of giant California roll, but includes three inari -- small, football-shaped, fried soybean cakes stuffed with sushi rice -- and three pieces of nigiri -- cooked shrimp draped over a small oblong mound of sushi rice.
The retail price had not yet been set when SN interviewed Barton just prior to the sushi launch, but he said the California pack would probably be $4.69, and the shrimp combo pack $5.75.
One of AFC's aims is to introduce sushi to new markets, and it determined that fully cooked sushi is the best way to do it. The fact that only cooked items are being offered at Sam's has nothing to do with extending shelf life, Barton said.
"We make these products, as we do all our sushi, fresh each day. And any that aren't sold are discarded. We consider the shelf life of sushi to be no more than 24 hours no matter what the ingredients. If it goes longer than that, the rice tends to get hard and the seaweed soggy," he added.
AFC currently supplies supermarkets on the West Coast, in the Southwest and Florida. In the areas not within delivery distance, the company supplies a sushi chef on-site.