The summer grilling season is well under way, boosting business in meat and poultry departments throughout the country. But seafood departments aren't sitting idly by — many are stocking their cases with top-selling species like salmon, tilapia and shrimp, and highlighting the category with summer promotions and in-store demo sessions. They're also cross-merchandising products from other departments, such as spices, cedar planks and an array of grilling utensils and accessories.
For example, D&W, the upscale chain owned by Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spartan Stores, is busy preparing for its annual Seafood Roadshow, a rotational event that moves from one group of Spartan stores to another throughout the summer.
“The Roadshows occasionally include sampling and cooking demonstrations, and we use separate ‘Selling Stations’ to create an event atmosphere,” said Ron Gardner, director of meat and seafood for the chain. “The focus in item assortment is on bigger sizes than the everyday offerings, at very competitive prices. Examples of recent items used in the promotion are marlin, swordfish and tuna steaks, and we will be using crab legs and scallops too.”
Aside from these items, Spartan and its D&W stores also sell an abundance of salmon. In fact, salmon is the No. 1-selling fish product at the chain, Gardner told SN.
“Farm-raised Atlantic salmon fillets are the largest-volume item we carry at D&W,” he said. “We sell salmon in many different forms, including fresh fillets, whole dressed, steaks, preseasoned fresh fillet portions, preseasoned skewers, kabobs, stuffed fillet portions and frozen fillet portions.”
The retailer advertises one seafood product each week on the Grilling Promo page of its circulars. Ad items range from jumbo sea scallops, jumbo freshwater prawns and preseasoned salmon fillets to salmon kabobs and tuna, swordfish and halibut steaks.
D&W focuses on fresh Alaskan sockeye fillets during the summer, while they are in season, but has frozen sockeye fillets in stock year-round. Alaskan king and coho are also promoted heavily during the summer and at the retailer's Glen's and Family Fare banner stores. Alaskan silverbright chum salmon is also a promotional success from June to August, said Gardner.
“We also have frozen Alaskan salmon fillets with cedar planks and cooking directions in each package,” he said.
Bloom, a banner of Food Lion, will be promoting cut-to-order tuna steaks and cut-to-order swordfish steaks throughout the summer. In addition, Bloom will feature both shark and salmon steaks, and large raw colossal shrimp, 8-12 count, for the grilling season, said spokeswoman Karen Peterson.
“Also, every Friday afternoon, ‘Bloom Taste Ambassadors’ will be positioned in the seafood area to cook and demo the ‘Too Fresh to Advertise’ item so our guests will know just how easy it is to prepare seafood selections,” said Peterson.
The retailer also plans to sell Fire and Flavor grilling planks in three wood varieties, as well as dry rubs specially blended for seafood.
Sweetbay Supermarkets, Tampa, Fla., has a bounty of seafood promotions on its calendar for June, July and August. An Old Bay Back Yard Summer Party event is already in full swing and will run through July 16.
Over the next few weeks, shoppers will be invited to fill out entry forms at the retailer's seafood departments, and one grand prize winner will be awarded a backyard summer party for 15 people. Each of the 15 party-goers will receive an Old Bay prize kit filled with an assortment of Old Bay rubs and spices, Old Bay-branded merchandise — a 12-can cooler, a volleyball and a Frisbee — and a coupon good for $30 worth of shrimp at Sweetbay stores. Shoppers can also sign up online at Old Bay's website.
“We will also be running a summer seafood promotion sponsored by the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute, in conjunction with Anheuser-Busch,” said Sherry Kelly, Sweetbay's director of seafood merchandising. “Everyone who sends in an Alaskan Seafood Promotion rebate, with proof of purchase, will receive $10 by mail.”
During the promotion, wild Alaskan sockeye and Alaskan coho salmon will both be in season and will likely be on sale in the chain's stores, she added.
“Salmon will always remain a strong seller, due to its high omega-3 content and health benefits,” said Kelly. “Tilapia is another popular choice, because it is a mild fish which lends well to just about any seasoning or cooking method.”
Indeed, consumers are buying a lot of salmon and tilapia, but shrimp and crab also sold well in the past year, said Steve Lutz, executive vice president, The Perishables Group, Chicago.
Along with salmon and tilapia, Sweetbay Supermarkets sells nine varieties of encrusted fish with gourmet-inspired flavors, such as sesame-encrusted salmon with ginger and soy.
The chain also carries McCormick's new Seafood Steamers, a line of microwavable bags in garlic butter and lemon garlic flavors.
“These microwavable bags with seasoning make it nearly impossible to overcook seafood,” said Kelly.
For customers concerned with over- or undercooking their seafood selections, Sweetbay's seafood associates hand out cooking sensors. They also advise at-home chefs to use gourmet accessories like grilling planks and grilling papers — thin wooden sheets pliable enough to wrap around fish, vegetables and other foods.
Having employees suggest how to cook various fish and seafood items is ideal, as many U.S. consumers don't know what to do with products in the category, said Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting Group.
“Retailers can hand out recipe cards, or even sell seafood that has recipes on the packaging. This has worked well in the meat department,” he said.
Orchard Market, which has two stores in western Michigan, carries a wide selection of fish and seafood with recipes printed directly on the cellophane wrapping, Grant Berry, meat manager for Orchard Market's Fruitport location, told SN.
“We used to package a lot of the fish ourselves, but now the manufacturers do most of the packaging, which allows them to put more information on the labels and other parts of the containers,” he said.
In the summer months, Orchard Market sells a lot of salmon, swordfish, catfish and yellowfin tuna fillets, among other varieties well suited to grilling. Tilapia is also popular at this time of year, but shoppers buy the low-priced fish all year long, said Berry.
“We've also seen a huge spike in tilapia sales. Orange roughy used to be the big seller, but it got too expensive, so people switched to tilapia,” he said.
To accompany its assortment of fish, Orchard Market has displays of tartar sauce, lemon juice, fresh lemons, lemon pepper and Cajun seasoning, as well as grilling equipment.
“We just got a display of disposable metal grilling racks that are used to keep vegetables, fish and meats from falling through the spaces in a grill. We positioned the shipper directly between the seafood and meat departments,” said Berry. “We also have a bunch of grilling accessories like wooden and metal skewers, grill brushes and tongs that we move around the store and sometimes are in the meat and seafood department.”
Any grilling utensil or accessory that makes cooking seafood more convenient can help bolster sales, said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. “Having great tie-ins like this makes it much easier to cook fish, so more people buy seafood and the accessories, and the retailer wins twice.”