Grocery store dietitians play a vital role in educating shoppers about the health benefits of seafood, which in turn boosts awareness and sales in fresh seafood.
“Seafood has a healthy halo to begin with, but having a dietitian-approved stamp helps highlight that positioning even more,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at Lakeland, Florida-based research firm 210 Analytics. “Much like a consistent private-brand look can help drive engagement with new/never-bought items after successfully trying a product in a different department, having a range of dietitian-approved items can spur trial as well.”
And, while consumers are currently worried about inflation in grocery prices, they are willing to spend on healthier foods. Thirty-four percent of consumers said they would spend a little more for something they perceive as healthier, according to May consumer research conducted by 210 Analytics.
Dietitians across the grocery industry are doing their best to highlight the nutritional benefits of seafood in a myriad of ways. Hy-Vee in West Des Moines, Iowa, for instance, is known for its strong dietitian/shopper health education program. For years, it has provided free dietitian services to shoppers who are interested, and the company recently launched Hy-Vee Healthy You, a health and wellness subscription service that provides personalized nutrition counseling, preventative health screenings, product recommendations and recipes.
In addition to individual counseling, Hy-Vee Healthy You users can access the grocery chain’s Healthy Habits menu program and on-demand freezer meal prep classes.
“Both options take customer education to the next level in directly adding seafood to our customers’ grocery lists and regular recipe routines,” said Megan Callahan, assistant vice president of dietitian services for Hy-Vee.
Plus, subscribers have the opportunity to have two free health screenings per year, which can include Omega-3 Index and biometric screenings.
“These screening options create perfect opportunities to talk to our customers about the importance of regular seafood consumption,” Callahan said.
From the start of its dietitian program, Hy-Vee’s dietitian team has emphasized educating customers on the health benefits of consuming seafood regularly as part of a healthy diet, Callahan said.
“As part of our retail teams, dietitians are positioned in the perfect place to help our customers reach their long-term health goals.”
In March, Hy-Vee dietitians took advantage of National Nutrition Month and Global Omega-3 Day to launch a free Omega-3 Index screening tour to help educate customers on their current levels.
“The screening tour was an incredible opportunity for our dietitians to inform customers of detailed actions they could take to raise their Omega-3 Index levels to improve overall health outcomes,” Callahan said.
While there is a heavy emphasis on Omega-3 benefits for several conditions, there are also informational displays on other nutritional benefits among alternatives in Hy-Vee’s seafood department.
“We highlight how seafood is protein rich, lower in saturated fat and offers other health benefits like high vitamin B levels,” Callahan said.
So, in addition to salmon, Hy-Vee also highlights tuna, trout, shrimp, and crab.
Hy-Vee places “Dietitian’s Choice” signage throughout its stores with information on the health benefits of specific foods, including seafood. In its fresh seafood departments, customers can also find Healthy Bites brochures.
Recipes and educating shoppers about how to prepare seafood is also key to boosting seafood consumption, according to Callahan.
“Low levels of seafood consumption in the Midwest — in our experience — can be related to inexperience in cooking these protein options,” she said. “Guidance on simple cooking techniques and recipes through individual counseling, wellness classes and our Seasons Magazine has helped us increase our customers’ confidence to purchase and prepare seafood.”
Similar to Hy-Vee, Harmons Grocery in West Valley City, Utah, has a program that calls out the health benefits of seafood and other foods with “Dietitians Choice” tags and an extensive social media education program.
“Having dietitians involved in social media messaging calls attention to these tags and lets consumers know that we are promoting these options not only for taste, but nutritional value which appeals to a wider audience,” said Melanie Taylor, Harmons’ dietitian.
In general, social media helps Harmons customers, seafood lovers or not, “have a better awareness of the variety and quality of the seafood we bring in,” Taylor said. “Since dietitians take part in the messaging, we get to provide information on the health benefits of seafood. Putting this information directly in front of our customers can definitely result in direct sales, but it can also indirectly provide customers with knowledge and confidence that they might use when purchasing in the future.”
Harmons also boosts seafood awareness and sales with its “Fresh Fish Friday” promotion, featuring different species each Friday “at a great sales price,” Taylor said. “Each store samples the fish and we let our customers and associates know through a text message Friday morning, and signage and word of mouth throughout the week prior.”
Taylor emails an educational flier for each store to display with health and nutrition facts as well as QR codes that link to recipes, how-to videos and blogs from Harmons’ website. Plus, the grocery chain’s marketing department posts an Instagram reel about Fresh Fish Friday weekly.
While Harmons has increased its social media and email presence in terms of seafood education, “nothing beats word of mouth,” according to Taylor. “Most of our seafood specialists have a following of customers that are incredibly loyal and enthusiastic about our seafood departments.”
Similarly, Downers Grove, Ill.-based Fresh Thyme Market, which operates 70 stores throughout the Midwest, focuses on educating both its seafood specialists and customers. Employees are provided pocket cards and digital communication on product attributes as well as talking points on the health benefits of seafood and the easiest preparation methods to share with customers, according to Jason Resner, meat and seafood sales, merchandising, marketing and procurement lead for the company.
During large sales events, Fresh Thyme’s teams also pass out cooking instructions and information on seafood’s health benefits.
Plus, Fresh Thyme’s dietitian, Meghan Sedivy, conducts live and interactive cooking and meal preparation demonstrations, discussing the health benefits of popular seafood species such as salmon, crab, shrimp, and scallops as well as the most optimum ways to prepare them.
“An increasing members of customers signing up for the live demos, along with the amount of views on her video posts, help show the growing audience and following she builds,” Resner said.
Sedivy also posts about the nutritional benefits of seafood on the company’s social media pages. And salmon’s Omega 3 benefits are not the only focus, according to Resner. For example, seafood staff and Sedovy educate shoppers that crab contains selenium, protein, and vitamin B12, he said.
In addition to pointing out the important benefits of seafood, such as Omega-3s, protein, and B12, retailers can further enhance shopper education by pointing g out the feature plus the benefit, according to Roerink.
“Think about how well this has worked for oranges and other citrus fruits: vitamin C = immune system = eat when you feel a cold coming on. Now what if people realized that bell peppers have even more Vitamin C? Or that mushrooms help support the immune system? Or what Omega 3 in salmon does for you? If people are aware of the benefits of what including salmon in the diet does for you, that is a way bigger win.”