DAYTON, Ohio — Dorothy Lane Market got customers in a grilling mood and rang up impressive sales last weekend with a sidewalk sale that featured whole Alaska Sockeye salmon.
By the end of the two-day sale, the store that hosted the event had sold 2,500 pounds of the whole salmon, up 15% from a similar event this time last year.
“Sales were just about what we had expected,” said Jack Gridley, seafood/meat director at the three-unit, upscale independent. “The fact that the Fourth of July fell this year in the middle of the week didn't seem to affect anything, since we sold considerably more than last year.”
This was the third year in a row that the retailer has orchestrated an outdoor whole-salmon sale the weekend before the Fourth of July.
This year, the whole fish, which weigh in at four to six pounds each, retailed for $7.99 a pound. By contrast, inside the store at the service counter, Sockeye fillets were retailing for $12.99 a pound.
Displayed attractively on a slanted ice table, whole, bright-eyed Sockeyes, 30 of them arrayed on the table at a time, tempted customers as they neared the store's entrance. So did stuffed whole salmon being cooked on a gas grill right next to the ice table. Samples of that fish, which were stuffed with Dorothy Lane's own herb-vegetable dressing, were offered by one of DLM's own demo staffers.
“Customers were given recipes, too. We wanted to show how easy it is to cook a whole fish on the grill,” Gridley said.
Most people bought just one whole fish, and most took their fish inside to the seafood counter to be cut into fillets and steaks.
“We have people cross-trained between meat and seafood. So if it looked like they were needed, associates from meat came over and helped out with cutting and filleting and freezer-wrapping the fish. Most customers wanted fillets.”
At the service counter, associates also sold a large number of cedar grilling planks with the salmon. The signature planks sport the DLM logo and Dorothy Lane Market's name burned into the wood. Another popular addition to the salmon sales were cedar wraps, which are thin sheets of wood meant to be wrapped around fillets.
“Those are just a great thing. You put some spices on the fish, wrap the cedar around it, throw it on the grill, and you've got great flavor,” Gridley said.
Although this year's run of Alaskan Sockeye, which is the most abundant species of wild salmon, has been available for about a month, Dorothy Lane chose to wait till last weekend to offer it for the first time this summer. The idea is that the seasonal introduction around the Fourth of July creates some summer hoopla and gets people excited about grilling.
“Our customers look forward to this. It's almost an excuse to have a party,” Gridley told SN, pointing out that the whole fish, in addition to being offered at an attractive retail price, provide a bit of drama.
Some people like to stuff the whole fish and grill it that way. It looks good, rather cheffy.
The Sockeye Dorothy Lane brings in is caught wild in Cook Inlet by a family cooperative at Seldovia Point, just south of Homer, Alaska. From there, it's shipped daily directly to Dorothy Lane Markets by Federal Express.
Dorothy Lane starts reminding its customers via direct mail and in an in-store newsletter about two weeks ahead that the whole-salmon sale days are coming.
On the retailer's website, this blurb ran the last week and a half in June:
“How about grilling a whole salmon for your Fourth of July Cookout? Join us this Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1, at 9 a.m., for our annual whole salmon sidewalk sale. Wild Alaska Sockeye salmon is high in heart-healthy omega-3 oils, and it tastes wonderful! During this outdoor fish market, you can choose your own whole salmon. If you prefer, we will gladly cut and freezer-wrap your steaks or fillets. Don't miss out on the fun! 9 a.m. till it's gone! $7.99 a lb.”
The whole-salmon sale is limited to those two days. That's not to say the store won't be selling fillets as long as the Alaska Sockeye run goes, which will probably be through August, Gridley said.
Pleased with the results of this year's sale, Gridley said he'll definitely do it again next summer. In fact, he said he'd like to do more of the sidewalk sales. Later this summer, he said, he's planning an outdoor sales event that will, for the first time, feature shellfish — probably mussels, clams and oysters.
Dorothy Lane's service seafood counters at this time of year are pretty well dominated by one species or another of Alaska salmon. Indeed, Gridley told SN that right now about 40% of the chain's seafood cases display wild Alaskan product, most of which is salmon, but Alaskan halibut also has a prominent spot.