Retailers are playing a profitable game of catch and release as they position frozen seafood closer to fresh foods and other high-traffic locations
Waldbaum's is hooked on a new way of catching frozen seafood sales.
The A&P banner has carved out a frozen fishing hole directly across from its impressive full-service fresh department in many of its stores.
The destination department features about eight coffins filled with frozen shrimp, lobster, tilapia, skillet meals, king crab legs and plenty of other seafood. Flanking the display are two endcap coffins that hold a variety of the retailer's Master's Choice private-label frozen seafood items, including raw and cooked shrimp.
A variety of condiments enhance the section. Cocktail sauce, lemon juice and tartar sauce are stocked in wire baskets. Adding to the one-stop-shop appeal are canned clams and clam juice, as well as a freestanding display for American Tuna. This albacore tuna is caught with a “pole and line” method, which is a selective and more sustainable way to catch tuna because only fish of a certain size are caught, leaving the smaller fish to replenish the stock. The process involves throwing small baitfish over the side of the boat to lure the tuna to the water surface. The fishermen then hook the fish and fling them onto the ship's flat deck.
First sold at Whole Foods Market, American Tuna is known for its high-quality taste and nutrition, including high levels of omega-3, low mercury levels and no fillers.
Waldbaum's, based in Montvale, N.J., has another innovative merchandising strategy in place in its regular in-line frozen seafood section. A special display holding about 20 facings of McCormick shelf-stable tartar sauce is affixed by suction cups to the outside of the frozen seafood door.
Other retailers have put their own spin on frozen seafood merchandising.
Yoke's Fresh Markets, Spokane, Wash., is moving its entire mainstream frozen seafood products like Van de Kamp's, Gorton's and Mrs. Paul's to a three-door freezer unit positioned next to its fresh department, according to meat director Ken Chapin.
“It's a much better location because it's a heavy traffic area,” Chapin said.
Yokes added the frozen doors to the fish department about three years ago to merchandise bulk shrimp, precooked seafood dinners and other specialty products.
“By bringing Gorton's and other popular brands closer to fresh, we will make it easier for people to shop for fish,” he said.
Until now, Gorton's and the other conventional brands were merchandised in five doors in the frozens department, next to frozen meat. Signs notify customers about the change in location.
To fit everything in the smaller three-door unit, Yoke's will remove some of the duplicate facings formerly merchandised in the in-line section.
“We were overfaced on some items, like shrimp,” Chapin noted.
The goal of the new merchandising strategy is to provide a seafood destination. At the same time, Yoke's hopes the all-in-one setup will encourage shoppers who originally set out to purchase frozens to instead consider a higher-ring fresh alternative.
“This will give them an option to trade up,” he said.
Crossroads County Market, Wausau, Wis., operates in a market where there's a lot of fishing and fresh fish available, but frozens sales nevertheless remain steady, said Douglas Hinkens, frozen food manager.
One of the reasons for this is that it frequently promotes the category and bundles products for a meal idea.
Several times this year it put out a bunker in the frozens department. It recently filled a bunker with Van de Kamp's fish sticks on sale for $4.50 (down from its regular $6.50 to $6.89) and frozen garlic bread. Salad dressing and tartar sauce were cross-merchandised directly next to the unit.
“It was a complete meal idea,” said Hinkens.
Meal ideas are also common during Lent, when Crossroads will merchandise various frozens in the front of the store. The display often includes frozen onion rings and other meat-free frozens.
“We really go after it during Lent,” he said.
Crossroads' in-line section consists of 12 feet of coffin cases next to frozen garlic bread. Featured brands include Van de Kamp's, Gorton's and Mrs. Paul's.
Frozen fish/seafood (including shrimp) generated $2 billion in dollar sales at food stores for the 52 weeks ending May 17, a 6.5% increase from the same period in 2008. Of this, frozen seafood (excluding shrimp) performed particularly well, growing 11% in dollar sales to $927.7 million. Frozen shrimp, meanwhile, grew 2.9% to $1.1 billion.
Consumers increasingly realize that frozen fish is on par with fresh, said Robert Garfield, senior vice president, public policy and international affairs of the American Frozen Food Institute, McLean, Va.
Most fresh fish is previously frozen anyway, Garfield noted. It's often caught, packaged and frozen on a ship, then defrosted at retail and put up for sale in a full-service counter display.
“There's not much difference between fresh and frozen except that frozen is kept frozen from the time it gets caught to when consumers buy it, Garfield told SN.
That means that frozens provide comparable nutrition and flavor at a lower price, he said.
An added bonus is that frozens are more convenient, Garfield noted.
“Frozens provide more portion control,” he said. “You can simply pull out the portion you want and keep the rest frozen for a later date.”
Manufacturers are rolling out new packaging innovations to preserve products even longer.
Gorton's, Mrs. Paul's, Van de Kamp's and other brands now come packaged in plastic pouches and resealable bags that keep product fresher longer.
“With an easy-open, easy-close zipper, you can use only what you need, then store the rest, knowing that it will be kept fresher longer and protected against freezer burn,” Gorton's says of its new resealable bags.
Retailers are promoting the convenience aspect of frozen seafood by offering discounts to those who buy multiple products, said Garfield.
“They're offering specials on four- and five-packs,” he said. “Consumers can simply store them in the freezer and pull them out when needed.”
The category is also benefiting from the health and wellness trend. The fact that seafood is packed with omega-3 fatty acids is prominently noted on product packaging.
Vendors are targeting this message heavily at kids by launching fish-shaped fish nuggets and other kid-friendly products.
Gorton's describes seafood as “brain food” because it's a natural source of omega-3s.
The manufacturer is currently running an “Eat Smart” contest that asks parents to submit tips and tricks on how to include fish in their family's meal plan.
More than 30 entries are currently up to public vote at gortons.com. Votes can be placed through July 31.
One of the entries states how a mom placed Gorton's fish sticks in a bag that formerly held pretzels to make it appear as a snack product. Other entries reveal similar kid-friendly suggestions.
The grand-prize winner will receive a desktop computer and 52 free product coupons for Gorton's seafood product. Ten first-prize winners will get a free product coupon for Gorton's seafood every week for a year, and 20 second-prize winners will get a free product coupon for Gorton's seafood every month for one year.