KANSAS CITY — Sales of seafood in the supermarket perimeter surged during the pandemic, and retailers and their supplier partners are revving up their merchandising plans to ensure that that momentum keeps going.

Twinsburg, Ohio-based Siffron has an extensive selection of solutions that are used in grocery seafood departments. 

Some of the most popular, said Robb Northrup, the company’s director of marketing and communications, are stainless-steel pans, which are often merchandised directly on ice to help maintain proper temperatures. 

And for the value-minded retailer, one of Siffron’s newer products, Metallamine display pans, provide the upscale look of stainless-steel pans without the price of stainless steel, Northrup said. 

Metallamine pans are made from melamine, which is also much lighter and easier to handle than stainless steel. 

Siffron’s seafood merchandising roster also includes risers, which are utilized to increase visibility of seafood and include dividers for organizing products.  

The company’s Mega Bar peg hook system, meanwhile, is commonly used for self-serve areas with pouched product. Siffron also makes behind-the-case equipment for effective service case operations — things like ice shovels, fish scalers, lobster rakes and food storage containers.

Grocers are looking for more creative ways to display a growing selection of products within the same amount of space, Northrup said.  

Siffron designs its seafood merchandising equipment with that in mind. Siffron display pans now come standard with dividers to allow multiple products to be displayed in the same column of pans.  

Siffron has even designed shelving units with built-in LEDs to highlight additional tiers of products above the display case deck itself.  

“We’ve elevated products for customer visibility but also focused on reducing the labor required to maintain the display cases,” Northrup said. “For example, we have a new stainless-steel riser that not only limits the amount of ice required for employees to load daily but can also be removed for ease of cleaning and sanitation.”

An increased awareness of surface cleaning has also led to elimination of messy case liners, which have traditionally been a staple of the Siffron product line.

Displays are now built to fit perfectly into each manufacturer’s case with dividing systems that separate product instead of relying on non-skid liners to hold displays or hide imperfections in the case surfaces, Northrup said.

In addition to Siffron’s wide variety of products for seafood merchandising, the company also provides custom solutions to meet the specific needs of its customers, Northrup said.

“Whether the equipment needs to be designed to meet NSF certification standards or sized perfectly to fit into a specific service case, we can build the display that is ideal for each individual customer. We also operate our own Design Centers in multiple locations across the country with the ability to test out new-look designs, allowing our customers to create eye-catching displays unlike any other.”

When it comes to trends, showcasing eye-catching colors with a lot of variety has always been popular in the retail merchandising of seafood, Northrup said.  

What’s changed is that today’s seafood consumers are more educated than ever before.  Consumers who purchase seafood are more health-conscious, seek out products provided with sustainable practices, and search for the superior quality products.

As a result, proper signage with category-separating indicators like those made by Siffron is key.  

And, Northrup advises, don’t forget lighting, which has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years.

“LEDs have developed over the years to render the proper color temperatures to bring out vibrant pinks and oranges of fresh salmon fillets in contrast with silver hues of the whole fish, while extending the shelf life of the products,” he said.

Lighting technology innovations have even brought some old trends back, Northrup said. 

Take decorative parsley strips, for example.  They faded in popularity in the 2000s, but because of the contrasting colors being better highlighted by newer LEDs, green garnishes now add that extra pop. 

New merchandising tips from ASMI

New research from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute dives into the latest consumer trends to give retailers a leg up on their merchandising plans.

Since the start of the pandemic, at-home consumption of seafood has remained strong. Seafood consumers are actively limiting their consumption of red meat and most have either increased their seafood consumption during the pandemic or plan to in 2021, according to ASMI.

Twenty-six percent of consumers purchased seafood for the first time during the pandemic, and 35% are cooking more seafood now compared to pre-pandemic.

The study revealed that the seafood staff at the store level remained the most common source of information about seafood, but sales and promotions are the strongest purchase motivator. Samples and sales are especially motivating for general consumers who tend to be more price-conscious.

Affluent consumers are most frequently getting their seafood from the fresh seafood counter, while general consumers are most often buying frozen.

Health is the primary reason for choosing seafood over other proteins, with 80% of affluent and 61% of general consumers choosing seafood because it’s healthier overall.

The ASMI report also has a lot to say about sourcing. Among the findings:

  • American sourced seafood is heavily preferred over seafood from other countries, with nearly 1 in 5 calling out that Alaska is their specific preference.
  • 52% of consumers prefer wild-caught seafood to farmed (11%).
  • The Alaska name is a strong purchase driver, with 73% affluent and 66% general consumers more likely to purchase seafood when included (and this number is even higher when the Alaska Seafood logo is included).
  • The Alaska Seafood logo improves perceptions of quality across the store, with 82% of consumers agreeing that seeing Alaska seafood means the store has high-quality seafood. Fifteen percent of shoppers are willing to pay significantly more for seafood when accompanied by the Alaska name, and 57% are willing to pay slightly more.

Trends report highlights seafood merchandising

The Alaskan industry isn’t the only place-specific trade group to take a close look at trends and how they can inform retailers’ merchandising decisions.

The Norwegian Seafood Council’s new report, Seafood Trends, documents how COVID changed the industry and what that means going forward.

"We have written this report because we want to be at the forefront – and we want to put the spotlight on the trends that we believe are important for the seafood industry in the years ahead," said Tom-Jørgen Gangsø, director of the council’s Market Insight and Market Access Department.

One trend spotlighted in the report is online buying, which has become more and more important for the seafood industry, said Anne-Kristine Øen, the council’s US director. The trend is particularly strong among US consumers, she said.

According to the council’s research, e-commerce accounts for nearly 28% of grocery sales globally and has put e-commerce two years ahead of previous growth forecasts.

Other trends covered in the council’s new report include: 

  • Sustainability –Research indicates there is a general threshold of quality consumers expect. The council knows that foods from certain regions are perceived as safer than others. The Scientific Committee for Food Safety conducts regular risk assessments, while the Norwegian Food Safety Authority introduces new measures and guidelines to guarantee Norwegian seafood is always safe and enjoyable to eat.
  • Convenience – Consumers expect products and shopping to be simple, affordable and time-saving. There has been increased demand for value-added products that help consumers cook delicious, nutrition meals without the hassle of seasoning the seafood themselves. In the United States, Mintel research noted that 78%of their survey respondents noted that fish is an easy-to-cook meal.
  • Transparency – Consumers want more information on how their food is produced. According to a study from Food Insight, more than half of the survey respondents in the United States said that knowing where their food comes from is highly important to them.
  • Health and wellness – There is a greater focus on what is healthy. Food Dive reported that ADM’s OutsideVoice research portal indicated that 77% of US consumers want to do more to stay healthy in the future.

"Hopefully, this knowledge can be used to develop products, explore new sales channels and give us insight into the type of communication that is important and relevant for seafood consumers both globally and domestically in the United States," Øen said.