I’ll admit, I’ve been a little biased against selling prepared seafood at the fish counter. In the past I was happy to give customers cooking advice, but that’s about as far as I went. The cooking was their job. I’ve since opened my mind.
I’ll always lead with the star of the show–fresh, raw fish–but offering a variety of prepared seafood not only meets growing demand by time-pressed customers, but I think prepared foods and fresh fish are mutually reinforcing. A beautiful display of top-quality fresh fish lets customers know that your prepared items are fresh and thoughtfully prepared, too. And if the to-go items are good, it’s my experience customers will look to your fish counter when they want fresh, raw seafood to cook at home–and will look to your advice on how to cook it, too!
Prepared Foods Become a Mainstay
Sales of prepared foods in grocery stores, including ready-made seafood dishes, have spiked in recent years. It should surprise no one to hear that customers say they are pressed for time and looking for high quality, healthy, and even local to-go items. According to a recent survey of 63,000 Consumer Reports subscribers, more than half bought prepared food at the grocery store. Prepared meals have become an almost $29 billion-a-year business in the U.S., growing twice as fast as overall grocery store sales.
“With the growing consumer interest in sourcing more healthful food items and also foods with ethnic or local attributes, opportunities may exist to increase category penetration,” said Donna Hood Crecca, associate principal at foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic, in an interview with SeafoodSource.
It’s important to know that convenience stores, along with supermarkets, are getting into the prepared seafood market as well. No longer known for just potato chips and beer, convenience stores catering to busy shoppers looking for fast healthy food are cashing in. So if you’re not offering prepared, ready-to-eat dishes, you could be getting beat by the corner store.
But none of this is bad news for Bay Area seafood vendors. We have a plethora of local seafood available in our area of the West Coast with which to create amazing grab-and-go meals that busy health- and sustainability-focused customers will love.
Tailoring Prepared Foods to Bay Area Customers
I used to shy away from sushi that wasn’t made fresh at a sushi bar, and I figured customers would avoid it, too. That may have been true at first, but it isn’t anymore. Customers now trust stores’ ability to provide high-quality prepared seafood, and that opens up opportunities for seafood departments to provide many other kinds of ready-to-go seafood.
- In the Bay Area, we can draw on local seafood traditions like cioppino to attract customers who want to eat in a way that’s seasonal and local. Cioppino is surprisingly easy to make, can be adjusted to work with whatever seafood is available, and if you give customers samples, it will be hard to resist. List the seafood that went into the cioppino so shoppers will get excited about all the items that go into the dish, priming their interest for when they want to make it themselves. Include a display nearby of loaves of good, local sourdough bread to go with the cioppino or other stews you’re offering.
- Right now, Dungeness crab is a prepared food trifecta: healthy, local, and in season. To attract busy customers, offer packaged, cooked and cracked crab along with instructions on reheating and containers of dipping sauce, like garlicky mayonnaise, tartar sauce, or a spicy tomato-based sauce.
- Our location on the Pacific Rim means items with an Asian or Hawaiian influence like poke and seaweed salads will likely do well. A bento box can contain space for poke, sushi, seaweed salad, and maybe some pickled squid salad. Or use your imagination. Bento boxes are fun because of the way they offer tastes of several dishes. Real or fake crab salad, teriyaki salmon, steamed, spiced shrimp, and seafood dumplings are all options for your bento box grab-and-go offerings.
- Partially prepared grill- and oven-ready foods like crab-stuffed salmon and seafood kabobs (try swordfish, bell pepper, tomatoes, and mushrooms) are also a smart move given the growing trend in convenience foods. Like me, you’ve probably talked to many would-be customers who are intimidated about cooking fish. By partially preparing seafood items so they’re ready to cook, you’ll take the fear out of fish and boost customers’ confidence in cooking seafood. For purposes of display, think about dishes that look good before they go on the grill or in the oven. Coquille St. Jacques, oysters Rockefeller, and whole branzino stuffed with rosemary and lemon slices are all impressive as well as being perfect for the holidays.
If you’ve got the space, you might even showcase how to cook partially-prepared items like seafood kabobs or marinated fish. “As our research suggests, food retailers that engage the customer by introducing their shoppers to a variety of product offerings and offer tips on how to cook, increase consumer spend,” Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods at FMI, told SeafoodSource.
Prepared Crab Cakes Make the Holiday Season Easy
With the holidays here and Dungeness crab season underway, pre-formed crab cakes are a natural choice–especially since even die-hard crab lovers sometimes balk at the idea of boiling, cracking, and picking through crab. Choose a simple recipe like this one to let the crab flavor come through. Once formed, the crab cakes can be sold pre-cooked or formed and ready to cook.
· 3 pounds crab meat
· 6 eggs, beaten
· 1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
· 6 tablespoons capers
· 3 lemons, juiced
· Salt and pepper
· 1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
· Butter for frying
Mix all ingredients except the butter in a large bowl and form into three-inch wide patties. If cooking, saute in butter until golden brown on each side. Makes 24 crab cakes.
Here in the Bay Area, we’re seeing more and more customers who are pressed for time but still looking to eat healthy, local, seasonal, and sustainable. That’s possible with prepared seafood, and we at Pucci Foods can help by offering the freshest sustainable and local seafood for your prepared dishes. Call us today about how we can help grow your sales with high quality responsibly sourced fresh seafood of all kinds.