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Getting people to buy more seafood: the many arms of pushing promotions.

Getting People to Buy More Seafood: The Many Arms of Pushing Promotions U.S. fish marketers, outgunned by cash-rich beef and poultry advertising budgets, swim against tide. And high prices and low media blows of 1988 didn't make the job any easier.

People want fish and seafood, or at least they say they do, but it takes promotional efforts by the industry to turn hopes and potential into profits and reality.

And as panelists at the International Seafood Conference in Amsterdam realized, their promotional efforts face real obstacles: big budgets for beef, poultry and other industries, and relatively high prices for fish and seafood products.

"Severe shortages heading into 1988 and significantly higher pricing of traditional species have resulted in a number of restaurant chains substituting such previously lightly-utilized species as hoki and South American whiting for cod," noted Don Short, chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based National Fisheries Institute's (NFI) promotions committee.

Meanwhile, Short, who is also president of Fishery Products Inc., said the U.S. beef industry is pouring $60 million into a promotional campaign, and the Canadian beef industry is doing the same to the tune of $2-3 million. Beef consumption is on the decline anyway, but not poultry--which is a lot cheaper than seafood and is supported by $50 million in advertising by processors.

Short also brought up the issue of "fish-bashing" -- media reports involving pollution and lack of mandatory inspection. Fulton Fish Market volume in New York dropped 43% after The New York Times ran a full-page ad showing a fish on a plate with a discarded hypodermic needle in its mouth and gills, Short said, and reports of pollution in the North Sea hurt British sales.

The NFI is trying to counter this sort of adverse publicity by distributing brochures and posters, especially in the New York area, explaining where seafoods actually come from (not polluted New Jersey beaches); in addition, it ran an ad campaign in October (National Seafood Month) aimed at restoring consumer confidence in seafood, and will launch a media blitz for this year's Lenten period.

But that sort of thing is just damage control; the real issue is building the market. Per capita consumption of fish and seafood reached a record 15.4 pounds in 1987; what happened this past year isn't certain yet, but during the first half of 1988 a seller's market turned into a buyer's market as cod prices broke. That could increase consumption, but only on a very shaky basis.

Nevertheless, Short said, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting a 44% increase in per capita consumption (to around 22 pounds) of seafood by the year 2000. The NFI itself is trying to help bring this about through a variety of promotions, from placing articles in the trade press to sponsoring campaigns tied to National Seafood Month, Lent, outdoor cooking, the International Food Media Conference, the National Nutrition Education Program, etc.

National Seafood Month, in particular, is a focus for the NFI -- in 1987 its publicity campaign was carried by 470 newspapers with a readership of 45 million, not to mention retail supermarket chain newsletters such as Safeway's Foods Unlimited. Retail participation in the program increased from 37% in 1985 to 65% in 1987, Short said. Participation in this year's Outdoor Seafood Cookery Promotion boosted sales 30-50% at Winn-Dixie and 50-80% at Super Value, he added.

Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Seafood Association (NASA) continues to promote seafood in the foodservice (catering) market, reported Chairman Marty Finkelstein. It's Fish and Fitness campaign got attention in the magazine U.S. News and World Report. NASA sends out recipes to consumer publications, and even takes food editors on junkets to places like Iceland to see North Atlantic fishery operations.

But this past year, it also took off the kid gloves, what with the trade press taking up the fresh vs. frozen issue. "It's never our intention to put down unfrozen fish, but we want to make sure that frozen fish gets the respect it deserves," said Finkelstein, who also happens to be executive vice president of Iceland Seafood Corp. "With the current scare headlines, we believe it is increasingly important for everyone in the business, particularly foodservice operators and retailers, to be aware that there are differences in fish." And, of course, to "separate North Atlantic fish from the rest of the pack."

Feds Get into Act

Trying to break from the pack is the National Fish and Seafood Promotional Council, created recently under federal legislation to promote fish and seafood products with funds ($9 million over three years) appropriated from import duties. Fourteen members representing various branches of the seafood industry have been appointed to the Council by the Secretary of Commerce, among them Dixie Blake, marketing manager of Ocean Garden Products, the largest shrimp distributor in the U.S., and Kathryn Vanderpool of Pursuit Fisheries, a Hawaii-based operator of an albacore fleet.

Kenelm W. Coons, chairman of the Council, told the ISC that its goal is to create "a measurable increase in per capita consumption in the first year following the start of our program" by focusing on regular users of seafood products who currently consume fish during only 12% of meal occasions. "If we succeed, the U.S. market will require 900 million additional pounds of live and round weight fish and shellfish," he said. Although the Council's program will be scheduled so as not to conflict with other major food promotions, "October is a likely time period." Consumer focus groups indicate that the emphasis should be on taste, variety, convenience and enjoyment of seafood, rather than selling it as "medicine that swims.

Alaskan Push

Alaska alone has a seafood industry worth $900 million a year, and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) has its own program aimed at increasing demand, reported its president, Lon LaFlamme. Programs range from working with retailers and restaurant operators on placing Alaskan products to developing new recipes in its own test kitchens. Last year, ASMI launched a campaign to squelch rumors that King crab was extinct: although supplies are down, the product is available, and most of the 24 million pounds on hand at the time was moved. Loss of market share for frozen salmon, Alaska's No. 1 export, in France and Japan led to another campaign to help Alaskan salmon compete with pen-reared Norwegian salmon. The U.S. government provided $3.4 million under the Targeted Export Assistance (TEA) program to mount an aggressive promotional campaign in Paris, Tokyo and Osaka.

A multi-species "Fresher Frozen" campaign, launched two years ago, is another focus of ASMI activity, LaFlamme said. "This is in response to the great debate among consumers who hold fast to the notion that frozen seafood is inferior to fresh. Although the attitude is changing, a great deal of education is still needed." Most Alaskan seafood is frozen, after all. One of ASMI's priorities this year has been to get television time for the multi-species campaign -- besides advertising, this includes working with producers of talk programs.

PHOTO : The business of selling seafood gets a lot tougher when misleading, sensational ads such

PHOTO : as the one at left appear in newspapers. Years of positive promotional image building to

PHOTO : equate fishery products with healthy food were threatened in a number of international

PHOTO : markets this summer as ocean pollution spurred environmental groups into a tidal wave of

PHOTO : "fish bashing" action. Vigilant responses from trade organizations such as the National

PHOTO : Fisheries Institute, as illustrated in the ad at right, may have helped lessen the damage

PHOTO : caused by unfair, alarmist accusations.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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