Aquaculture Magazine

December /January 2015

Creating a retail development model

I saw this happen on the weekend, and not for the first time. Consumer at retail fishmongers and the discussion went like this:

Consumer: Hi, I am pregnant and want to eat more fish. Can you recommend what species I should purchase? I want to be sure I am eating the best for my baby.

Shop Assistant: I don’t know what the best species is so I will ask the boss. Please wait a moment.

If you as a retailer have not trained your staff to understand some basics about their role or have not prepared some information/fact sheets for such times, then this is where you lose business.

In this case the consumer did wait patiently for a reply but clearly an easy option would be for the consumer to move on. However having waited the consumer was then told “The boss reckons the best for you will be Flathead.”

With that the consumer ordered 2 pieces of Atlantic Salmon, paid and moved on.

Seafood retailing is the ‘window’ of the industry yet we do not spend much time/effort on engaging this area compared with harvesting and processing. It is at retail where the consumer comes into contact with the industry and judgments are made by what is seen and experienced – it needs to be a special experience but in reality it rarely is.

Many Perception Studies about the industry are done and quite clearly you obtain the message that consumers either do not know much about our industry or, if they think they do, they have some bias due to anti-seafood, pro-environmental campaigns. All of this could change dramatically if our retail connections were more aware that their role is more than just a collection point.

Surely we all want to increase seafood consumption!

If we do then retailers must have certain basic skills and knowledge. It is my strong opinion that if you are not well trained then your skills will be lacking and you will be letting down Team Seafood. Unfortunately seafood retailing is a nil-entry level employer (e.g. no certification/skills required as basics) and no formalized licence/accreditation is required.

This is not a new idea. The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, which received its first Royal Charter in 1272, is one of the 110 Livery Companies of the City of London, England, being a guild of the sellers of fish and seafood in the City. The Company ranks fourth in the order of precedence of the Livery Companies, making it one of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies.

The Company has an unbroken existence of more than 700 years—although it probably existed earlier. Over the years it took the name Stock Fishmongers’ Company as the result of another Royal Charter of 1508 and then, in 1537, it combined with the Salt Fishmongers’ Company to form the Company of the present name. Until the end of the 14th century the fishmongers even had their own court of law, called Leyhalmode, at which disputes concerning fish and seafood trade were judged by the Wardens of the Company.

From a harvester’s perspective they can have the best product in the world, be fully certified, and have great passion about their brand and products but as soon as the delivery has left their control they are left to the mercy of the supply chain.

In some countries it is not possible to operate a butcher’s retail business without qualifications being obtained as the abattoirs/slaughterhouses will not sell meat to such operators but the supply chain in seafood is such that anyone can start a fish retail business. The industry has not policed itself in this regard.

Of course, there are minimum health licensing requirements in most countries based on HACCP principles but the courses are mostly general and not seafood-specific and the industry is not engaged in the process, as they are in the red meat industry. This leads to poor practices, undercutting, wastage, etc., and importantly leaves the consumer at the mercy of misinformation. Misinformation is far worse than no information.

In a number of countries, supermarkets train their butchers (who do not come into contact with customers – e.g. product is pre-packed), but they rarely train their seafood teams who do always come into contact with the consumer. The general reason given is because the seafood staff are always changing and do not remain either at the business or in that section for too long. There are exceptions to this, of course – Whole Foods in the USA and Morrison’s in the UK have been cited as examples of the exceptions and there are more, but the exception is more the rule.

I believe we need to create international best practice experiences in service, packaging, presentation, design and promotion in Seafood retailing and from that creating standards and a training program. To maximize the opportunity this is proposed as an ‘on line’ program but, in no way, stops the face-to-face training opportunities.

Further we should consider how to ‘globalize’ this – consideration should be given to ‘FAO’, or ‘The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers’ or the Association of International Seafood Professionals could be considered. A brand/logo could be used in the process.

The deficiencies in the current system would seem to be:

•      No understanding what is world’s best practice in service, packaging, presentation, design and promotion in seafood retailing;

•      Little research resources/tools for trainers/educators in seafood retailing;

•      Limited point-of-sale knowledge/information;

•      Lack of consistent nutritional information;

•      No consistent global messages;

•      Erratic delivery service to customers and interaction with customers;

•      Poor coordination on interaction with businesses;

•      Insignificant research in retail technology;

•      Inconsistent merchandise presentation and promotional displays;

•      Modest novel food products;

•      Reduced knowledge on preparation, cooking and retailing seafood products;

•      Meagre innovation in retailing;

•      Mediocre communications with the community; and

•      Deficient communications with the industry.

If we were able to develop this program, it could revolutionize the ‘window’ of the industry and there would be many benefits which would have positive outcomes for the whole industry.

At the present time the retail end is engaging with the primary sector – this would ensure that the primary sector is engaging retail and ensuring world’s best practice from harvest to plate.

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