Fresh Food

How Seafood Can Transform Stores Into Social Hubs

Retailers are awash in opportunities to expand their role in the people business that serves groceries
Photo courtesy of iStock

While digital disruption is grabbing headlines, it’s important to remember the significant opportunities that exist in the analog world of food. Certainly, the digitization of food has the potential to further isolate us from each other, but brick-and-mortar grocers have an opportunity to do the opposite: build community. I would like to offer some ideas of why and how to accomplish that—and by doing so, how you will increase not only profitability but also retention at the same time. The key is going to be transforming grocery shopping from a chore into part of the eating experience.

At the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, we start with understanding who the current and future seafood consumer is, which is what we recently commissioned WGB’s sister research firm Technomic to discover for us. Two important seafood psychographic segments were uncovered: the Originator and the Optimizer. These two groups combined make up 55% of the seafood spend, 78%-91% of which are still shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.

The Originator skews female.

  • She is an adventurous eater, on-trend, and she makes deliberate purchasing decisions.
  • She is eating healthier than she did two years ago, and she’s eating more seafood to improve her diet.
  • Dining is a form of entertainment in and out of the home.
  • She is always socializing, both online and in person.


The Optimizer skews male.

  • He is busy and food is fuel.
  • He is willing to source quality fuel from a variety of sources.
  • He is price-sensitive and brand-loyal.
  • Food is social currency for him.
  • He is concerned about the impact his food choices have on the planet.


Now that we understand who the seafood consumer is, it’s our job to help retailers build a community to reach and retain them.

Turn your store into a social platform where people can interact with the most popular topic on Instagram: food. Use seafood as an engagement opportunity for the whole store. Put the best cooks behind those counters, and share cooking tips and best website recipe finds with your customers. Indeed, 68% of Originators learn about how to prepare seafood online. Listen to how your customers are preparing their seafood and use those stories to inform your ordering. You’ll reduce shrink and have more to talk about in the neighborhood.

Omnichannel is flooding the retail space. Originators and Optimizers are living lives surrounded by technology, yet 34%-47% of them report that ordering seafood online for pickup, delivery or in a meal kit “doesn’t feel right.” We still have time to make a lasting impression on both groups, but the clock is ticking. More than half of them said they are likely to begin to use e-commerce for seafood in the near future. Plus, our online grocery partners are well aware of this objection and are actively working to overcome it. Now is the time to carve out a permanent place in the path to purchase.

While brick-and-mortar is key, digital coupons really drive consumers into the store. Our partnership with Ibotta, the No. 3 shopping app in America, tells us that seafood is a key driver for the incremental shopper. A good deal on seafood is likely to draw Optimizers into stores, because they tend to be brand-loyal and price-sensitive. It’s equally likely to become part of the conversation at their dinner party if the shopping experience was notable.

Incentivize your staff to learn all they can about the products in their departments, and to educate their customers. News flash: They are interested. According to The Hartman Group, 49% of people don’t decide what’s for dinner until an hour before the meal. Building a relationship with customers takes the “what to make tonight” burden off their plate, knowing they can ask your staff for ideas.

Get to know your local food influencers and reach out to them. You have a parking lot, shopping aisles and space in general that your digital competitors lack, so make sure you get all the value you can out of it. Host health fairs and cooking demos. Think big and invite farmers, fishermen or local brand representatives to visit your store and talk about where their products come from and all the effort that went into bringing them to market. 

Building community has to be a management priority, too. We have to come up for air from our P&Ls and walk the floor, teach sales techniques and talk to customers. Think of the restaurant manager who makes the rounds asking diners how their meal tastes. Why not offer to help shoppers put a delicious meal together? Once that customer has stood in line to pay, it’s too late to find out if they “found everything they were looking for.”

The bottom line is that the landscape is changing, and if brick-and-mortar grocers want to hang onto their community footprint, they have to earn it. As Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks, is often quoted, “We are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.” The same can be said for food retailers: We are not in the grocery business serving people, but in the people business serving groceries.

This is the time, you have the place, and the window of opportunity is still open. Jump in and take a meaningful role in keeping us all connected face to face.


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