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Boost promotions and target youth market, Marriott executive tells seafood sellers.

Boost Promotions and Target Youth Market, Marriott Executive Tells Seafood Sellers

The seafood industry has to do much more to promote its products and educate specific consumer groups to eat more fish. That is what Richard Marriott, vice chairman of the global hospitality company that bears his surname, told members of the National Fisheries Institute.

Marriott Corporation, which runs more than 500 hotel properties around the world, is also heavily engaged in foodservice operations at locations ranging from airport terminals to motorway restaurants. It has over 3,000 food and service management accounts and prepares more than four million meals every day in 17 countries. So when one of the company's top executives talks about fish from a big buyer's perspective, suppliers listen.

Naturally, the challenge of finding ways to sell more seafood was addressed head-on. And Marriott made it clear that it won't be enough to enhance consumption just among current users. In light of the tough competition for share of stomach from rival food sources, new customers must be found.

A good target market to start with is young consumers under 18 years of age who were raised on fast food menus generally devoid of fish, suggested the vice chairman. "Who in your industry is developing products that will impart a taste for seafood at an early age?" he asked. "Have you considered coming up with baby food, or a product that fits the snack food generation? Don't accept old answers that it has been tried, or it can't be done. Japanese children are imprinted at a very early age. . ."

The hotelier praised the TV advertising campaign waged in the USA last year that urged consumers to eat fish and seafood twice a week. But more money must be spent to shore that message up.

Interestingly, major foodservice operators such as Marriott, Red Lobster and Long John Silver's are probably the biggest spenders when it comes to promoting seafood products.

"We feature all you can eat crab and shrimp bar promotions on television, but with virtually no support from the seafood industry," said Marriott. "You are a prime beneficiary of this increased business, and you need to support efforts like ours before they dry up and move to competing protein industries which will - and are - providing support."

He cited the National Pork Council's "Other White Meat" promotion as a job well done. "For pork's worst attributes, which are calories and cholesterol, consumer perception changed from 40% negative in 1987 before their campaign to 10% negative perception last spring."

As for seafood, Marriott again emphasized the need for sustained promotions. "I don't think there is any industry that can compete with yours in terms of pureness and naturalness of product. But you need to communicate those virtues to the public - especially as your supply requirements increase."

The vice chairman urged suppliers to direct their marketing activities to all levels of the distribution chain, including those full-line distributors who carry up to 10,000 line items. "They reach an enormous number of foodservice outlets of all types," he said, "and seafood currently plays a very small role in their communication efforts."

Other advice offered by Marriott included:

* Wean consumers from old popular standbys like cod to try new products with "strange-sounding" names that come from third world countries.

* Work to ensure continuity of supply so that species can be properly menued. Halibut, for example, is not promoted because of its unpredictable availability.

* Consider a method of quality control that separates good suppliers from bad ones. This could take the form of strict internal enforcement of company standards, or the enactment of mandatory inspections externally.

* Develop a quick test for virus and bacteria strains that could be used to certify shellfish as free from pathogens.

* Prepare for a market shift toward older consumers by formulating value added products that appeal to the segment.

Boston Show Was Down 13%,

Gulf War, Recession Blamed

For the record, the final 1991 Boston Seafood Show attendance count of 17,400 reflected a 13% downturn from the record 20,000 attendees on hand for the March 1990 rendition. Nonetheless, organizers were upbeat.

"We're very pleased, considering world economic conditions and other problems such as the Gulf War," said Tom Repeta, sales and marketing director. "A lot of serious business was conducted on site. Inventories are low and people needed to go out and get product."

Buyers were able to inspect some 1,015 booths exhibiting products from 670 companies from 25 different countries. Some regular national exhibitors - notably Ireland and Scotland - reduced display space or cancelled just prior to the show, but other countries offered a stronger presence.

Indonesia had six companies on hand. "We expect them to sponsor a pavilion next year," said Repeta. "We're also talking with the Philippines and Thailand about pavilions. Both were very close to participating this year, but global events and economics caused a lot of eleventh hour changes."

The 1992 program will take place at Boston's Hynes Convention Center. The dates are set for March 17-19, and more information about the event is available by faxing: (1) 207-772-5059.
COPYRIGHT 1991 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Richard Marriott
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:849
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