Life isn’t easy for seafood retailers. There are so many different challenges to deal with every day. Supply and product sourcing are big issues. Proper care and handling of seafood are significant concerns. And perhaps most worrisome are the political and environmental issues facing the seafood industry as a whole.
According to Launchscore.com, a startup business information aggregator that researches regional small business opportunities, the seafood industry continues to have lower opportunities than most sectors.
“Despite the high demand for seafood, the supply is always an issue,” says Gary Wilkins, lead researcher. “So the niche tends to be fairly well covered.”
But guess what? Your customers couldn’t care less about your problems. When they’re in your store trying to figure out what to buy for dinner, all they want is something that can be easily and quickly prepared at home.
They’re looking for good quality at a reasonable price from a retailer who can answer questions like: “How much should I buy to feed four people?” “What’s the best way to cook this?” and “How do I know when it’s done?”
And right there is probably your biggest challenge of all: educating consumers so they’re comfortable buying fish. Their basic questions, unfortunately, go unanswered too many times. And when that happens, consumers lose confidence in the offending seafood department and turn away, headed for the chicken or beef counter — or, worse, to another store.
So how do you meet your obligation to educate customers so they feel confident about buying seafood and cooking it at home? Start with yourself. That’s right: Educating your customers begins with educating yourself and your staff.
Even if you think you already know everything about seafood, there’s always more to learn in this business. You have to keep your staff members up to date on new species and market forms, new methods of maintaining quality and current consumer trends.
Make information readily available to your people. Trade publications can be an excellent source of product updates and information on industry trends. And you can always get specific information from the National Fisheries Institute and state or species promotional organizations like the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and Seafood Marketing, the Louisiana Board of Fisheries and the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, to name a few.
Outside experts can provide both training and a fresh perspective to your business. There are experts and consultants in such areas as safe seafood handling, proper freezing and thawing methods and effective marketing techniques. You can also hire assistance in setting up and maintaining a HACCP program.
And don’t forget about customer relations. A good retail expert can coach your staff in providing efficient, courteous service to ensure you have satisfied customers.
Also, remember that you have partners — the suppliers you buy from. They have a vested interest in your success, because you sell their products. Ask manufacturers like Golden Dipt, Cajun’s Choice and others for recipes and preparation ideas for seafood.
Recently Denny Kottelich and Larry Daerr from SuperValu’s Pittsburgh division introduced a series of seafood-cooking seminars with the help of Joe Benkovitz and Annette Richardson of Nordic Fisheries in Pittsburgh. The sessions were aimed at teaching seafood-department personnel how quick and easy it can be to cook seafood.
Participants moved through six different “stations,” where they learned how to prepare various kinds of seafood. Common responses were, “Wow, I can do this!” and “That was easy!” Anyone can prepare great seafood at home. It’s up to you to show them how.
A major retailer in the Southeast implemented chain-wide training programs to ensure a top-notch staff and the highest-quality seafood. The result: a dramatic increase in seafood sales, with some stores’ sales up more than 86 percent.
Education and training are not panaceas for every problem faced by the seafood industry. But those problems pale in significance when happy, knowledgeable seafood customers make our cash registers ring.
Seen & heard
New kid on the block
You are all familiar with the meteoric rise in popularity of orange roughy, Chilean sea bass, catfish and tilapia. Now there’s a new kid on the block — Basa catfish (Pangasius bocourti), a farm-raised Southeast Asian catfish with snow-white meat and a flavor markedly similar to that of orange roughy or Chilean sea bass.
And people really like it. At the grand opening of the new Pacific Fresh distribution center in Sacramento, Calif., this fall, I had the opportunity to cook Basa catfish for the crowd. I intended to cook several different species, but people kept asking for more Basa.
This was good news to H&N Fish Co. of San Francisco, which supplied the fish, and also to KCRA Channel 3 (NBC)in Sacramento. I had made an appearance on their noon newscast the day before to cook Basa, and viewers were excited about the fish. We received many inquiries about the species on our Web site, and KCRA was more than happy to post our recipe for basa on its site.
Basa catfish is an easy sell. It tastes great, lends itself to all manner of preparations, including grilling, sauteing and baking, and the price is right, too. Altogether, this is a recipe for success.