Customers’ desire for meat-free dishes during Lent has many retailers thinking of creative new products and marketing opportunities, particularly in the seafood department.
Northgate Gonzalez Markets, an Anaheim, Calif.-based chain with a predominantly Hispanic customer base, is holding cooking classes throughout February and March centered on traditional Mexican Lenten meals, including ceviches, chiles rellenos and capirotada, a dish similar to bread pudding.
The classes are part of a push to provide more seasonal promotions and events, which have proven very popular with customers.
“We did these around the [Christmas] holidays. In the tamale class we had upwards of 150, 200 people. So this time we’ve deliberately added more classes so that we can kind of spread the people out a little bit better,” said Mike Hendry, vice president of marketing at Northgate.
For those who can’t make it to the classes, Northgate has created a series of 3½-minute YouTube videos featuring chef Martin Guerrero. The how-tos are only in Spanish for now, but the retailer plans to add bilingual videos, Hendry said.
Customers will also be able to access the recipes and ingredients for the featured dishes using QR codes displayed in relevant departments in stores.
In addition, Northgate introduced new seafood-based dishes for Lent in its Cocina, or Mexican kitchen.
To help time-crunched customers who still want to cook traditional foods at home, the retailer added pre-roasted, pre-cut chilies for preparing chiles rellenos.
“We call it kind of a one-step-closer solution to cooking,” said Hendry.
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Cardenas Markets, another California chain that caters to Hispanic customers, developed a new menu of prepared foods for Lent this year that includes items like ceviche tostadas, fish and shrimp tacos and fish cocktails. The retailer promoted the menu with a photo album on its Facebook page.
So far, customer reaction has been positive, said spokesperson Marco Robles. “And the reason why it’s been positive, it’s because of its ready-to-go packages that we’ve been able to promote.”
Cardenas also plans to market ready-to-eat versions of traditional dishes like capirotada to second- and third-generation customers.
“As we get busier and busier these days, many of us are not able to cook these from scratch. But we have the ability to provide all these cultural and traditional items prepared or unprepared,” said Robles.
The ingredients for traditional dishes always see healthy sales during Lent, Robles added. Cardenas will have special prices on seafood, bakery, produce and grocery Lenten products throughout the holiday period.
In Louisiana, Rouses Markets turns every Friday during Lent into a party with its Super Seafood Extravaganza. The retailer sets up tents in front of its stores for weekly crawfish and shrimp boils. Dressed-down employees and music add to the festive atmosphere.
“And customers will come through and they’ll pinch a couple tails and suck some heads and sample them on the way in, and on the way out they’re buying them,” said Jack Treuting, executive director of culinary operations.
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Most Rouses locations have boiling rooms in the back of the store where up to 400 pounds of crawfish can be boiled at once, Treuting said.
Deli departments might also join the event by grilling fish tacos.
“Of course we advertise it, and we see a pretty big lift,” said Treuting.
Rouses started hosting the Seafood Extravaganza two years ago, but the Friday Lent tradition has been going on for about 15 years.
Treuting said locals know to come to Rouses on Friday afternoons for the festivities and to stock up for the weekend.
“When you’ve got 38 stores at the same time with tents out front and music and having a good time, it’s pretty unique.”
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