SEATTLE -- Selling fresh seafood in supermarkets has always been a challenge. For a while, that was also the case for Simply Seafood magazine, sold right at seafood counters.
After a few tough years, however, circulation has been increasing along with seafood sales.
"We have sort of a symbiotic relationship with the seafood counters," said Peter Redmayne, editor and publisher of the Seattle-based publication. "The more seafood they sold, the more magazines consumers bought. As consumers bought more magazines and became more familiar with seafood, they bought more fish."
But that wasn't always the case. Redmayne explained that many supermarkets remodeled in the mid-1980s, adding the hardware for service delis, bakeries and seafood departments. But in most cases, the seafood departments remained under the management of the meat departments. Stores didn't put money into training counter staff to answer questions about the cooking and preparation of the many varieties of seafood, an area where consumer insecurity still runs high.
"The person behind the seafood counter has a tremendous impact on the sale," Redmayne pointed out. "A knowledgeable person can increase sales from $6,000 a week up to about $10,000." On average, seafood counters account for about 2% of a supermarket's total business.
Simply Seafood came along in 1991, just as many supermarket chains realized that they could use some help to boost sales. Circulation, which started at 80,000 copies, soon rose to 150,000.
But then, Redmayne added, some chains began to pull the seafood departments out of the stores because their profitability wasn't as high as other departments. Since the magazine is sold at those counters, the magazine went out with the seafood departments. Circulation dropped 20%.
"Selling seafood continues to be a challenge for retailers," Redmayne said. "With prices at $12.99 a pound, we're now trying to communicate to consumers that you don't need to serve a pound of fish, that smaller portions will do."
According to Al Kober, meat and seafood buyer and merchandiser at Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa., profit and price aren't the only problems for seafood departments. "Selling seafood is difficult because there are so many varieties and species of fish, and each one is its own industry. You have clams, shrimp, cooked shrimp, raw shrimp, catfish, salmon. All are separate and each one has a different shelf life [and] handling, cooking, refrigeration and storage needs. People don't understand the knowledge that's required and difficulties here," Kober said. Most supermarket workers, he added, don't aspire to head the fish department. Many just put in their time on the way to higher management positions.
Redmayne is optimistic about the future of his magazine. Simply Seafood is now distributed at 4,000 seafood counters nationwide and circulation and ad revenues are on the rise. Redmayne credits chains such as Quality Food Centers, Bellevue, Wash., which has 60 stores around Puget Sound, for actively promoting their seafood departments. Clark Neuhoff, McCormick & Co.'s brand manager for Old Bay and Golden Dipt seafood seasonings and complements lines, Hunt Valley, Md., sees seafood consumption tied more closely to price and supply. "As aquaculture, the science of farm-raised fish, develops further, we'll see a change in consumption. As the supply of healthy fish increases, where there are no quotas or no natural disasters to deal with, prices will eventually come down and people will eat more fish. Also, as the population ages, there will be more people who are health-conscious and turn to fish as an alternative to meat," he said. Simply Seafood is still working to educate consumers on the ease and great taste of seafood. Along with the magazine, it has developed a recipe card program, which sits beside the magazine rack at the seafood counter and tells consumers how to broil, grill, sautA and generally prepare different types of fish.
"The retailer, who can sell 'Simply Seafood' at any price, can take the money made from the magazine and use it to offset the cost of the recipe cards. It ends up costing them about 11 cents a day," said Redmayne.
The magazine helped develop a seafood selling program for the Old Bay and Golden Dipt lines of McCormick & Co., one of its regular advertisers. The program uses an 11-by-14-inch clear acrylic counter stand with a recipe holder. McCormick then supplies 18 prepared-meal photographs of different fish recipes, along with 100 recipe cards. On the back of the photograph is detailed educational and nutritional information that the counterperson can use as a "cheat sheet" to answer customers' questions.
"Simply Seafood helped us out with the information part of this program," said Neuhoff, who has placed about 6,000 of these displays in stores nationwide. "Seafood is an educated sale. People know what to do with chicken or meat when they buy it. Most people need help with cooking seafood. They need to know what the end meal will look like. Magazines like 'Simply Seafood,' their recipe cards and our program all help educate people, make them hungry in the store and ultimately sell more seafood," he said.