One of the biggest trends sustainable seafood specialist Blue Circle Foods is seeing in the retail grocery salmon market is the resurgence of frozen, says David Pilat, the company’s vice president of business development.  

“Customers are now understanding that frozen seafood, even salmon, can be just as delicious as fresh,” he says. “And sometimes, they might even trust it more if it’s frozen at the source and gets to market quickly. When frozen is done right, the flavor is excellent, really comparable to fresh. It freezes really well and thaws really well.”

Frozen also doesn’t require as much handling, Pilat says, and frozen items are easy and quick to prepare. One of Blue Circle’s newest salmon products, Happy Fish, is a single-serve product frozen in the shape of a fish with a little salt and pepper added. It’s currently being sold at Whole Foods Market stores in five of the retailer’s sales regions, Pilat says.

“You can sauté it, boil it. There’s so much you can do with it. It’s a nice way for parents to feed their kids salmon,” he says. “Not that it has to be just for kids, though. It’s a great product overall.”

Frozen salmon is often merchandised right next to the fresh case in the perimeter in a bunker or top-right freezer, Pilat says. Once retailers start using frozen salmon and frozen salmon portion products, they’re usually fairly quickly sold on the concept. And they don’t have to market it frozen —many retailers thaw it and sell it in the fresh case.

“We have a great 2-pound bag of frozen portions that does incredibly well,” Pilat says. “Retailers tell us it’s more convenient for certain customers. Sometimes if you don’t live right near the store, and you like the quality, you might want to buy six portions of frozen so you don’t have to go every few days. Retailers are starting to see that.”


Sustainability and quality

Blue Circle continues to see a surge in retailer interest in switching to sustainable salmon.  All of Blue Circle’s salmon is sustainable, sourced from a single, small farm off the Norwegian coast.

“They really do things differently,” Pilat says of the grower. “We push the envelope. We have a current fish in-fish out ratio of .47 to 1, meaning we are a net protein provider, which is pretty amazing.”

Blue Circle’s farming partner cleans its fish oil before feeding it to salmon, greatly lowering PCB levels. And through the use of micro algae in its feed, the amount of omega 3s is nearly doubled.

Sustainability is a noble goal, but it doesn’t mean anything without quality, Pilat says.  

“The first thing we have to do is quality. Customers are not interested if the quality’s not there.”

Once you have that down, you can start telling consumers other parts of your brand story, Pilat says. “We start with some of our easier-to-understand elements: we don’t use any synthetic colorings at our farm, or hormones or antibiotics. That leads people down the path of ‘What else is different about your salmon?’ Then you can really tell your story. It’s an ongoing and evolving story, so it’s not always easy to tell it right away. Over time you have to explain your differences, to let people taste the fish and understand the difference.”

When it comes to merchandising, many of Blue Circle’s retail partners do a great job and don’t have to be told what to do, Pilat says. Others need some coaching.

“One of the biggest ways we can help retailers merchandise is by getting our story across and offering promos when necessary.”

One promotional idea Blue Circle likes to share: in addition to offering salmon fillets in summer, also offer whole fish to appeal to seasonal grillers.

Cross-merchandising is also a great idea. In summer, cross-merchandising salmon with grilling tongs, kebob sticks or specialty grilling trays works well, Pilat says. Grilling sauces are a good fit for summer. For winter, retailers can switch to spices that work well for baked salmon.  

Whole Foods is one Blue Circle partner that is expert at promoting and merchandising salmon, Pilat says. “The first thing they do is to make sure everything in the case is high-quality. And they’re terrific at promotions, they do a terrific job cross-merchandising and they do wonderful recipes.”

And now that Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, Pilat adds, they run Amazon Prime specials, where consumers get discounts if they’re Prime members.