Good advice at the seafood counter

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
25 April 2007, at 1:00am

NORWAY - "A seafood dinner isn't just about proteins and Omega 3, but also a good food experience", says Scientist Geir Ottesen.

"In many cases, both food experiences and new products are developed through over-the-counter discussions between customer and sales staff", says Ottesen.

It’s relatively easy to test products at the seafood counter. The cusomters provide valuable feedback.

In a recently completed project, Fiskeriforskning has studied why some seafood products catch on, while others do not.

It is important to consider the customers' wishes, but it is not always easy for the producers to find out what people want. Serviced fishmonger's shops and seafood counters are particularly interesting in this context because the employees have close and frequent contact with the consumers.

Developing products together

The scientists have interviewed business managers and observed customers and employees in the fishmonger's shops in order to learn how they develop their products through talking with the customers.

"The sales staff listens to the customers' wishes so that together they can arrive at recipes the customers can prepare when they get home", says Ottesen.

Through over-the-counter dialogues, the product can be continuously improved. An example of this is the self-produced bacalao at Kaikanten Fisk & Skalldyr in Tromsø, where customer feedback has been used for years to fine tune the recipe ( read the interview with Kaikanten here).

This type of dialogue with the customers is in stark contrast to traditional production companies, which usually have very limited contact with the consumers.

Selling food experiences

A fish dinner is about more than just the raw materials. The experience around the meal is important for its success.

According to Ottesen, only a few companies in Norway are both seafood producers and fishmonger's shops, but such an organisation appears to be advantageous. When producer and customer work together, there is a greater chance that the product will succeed.

One of the success criteria is being able to offer something "extra". Many customers do not know what to buy when they come to the shop, and the sales staff's recommendations are often decisive for what they select.

In addition to knowledge about the seafood product itself, it is useful to know something about how to create an experience around the meal.

"Some people aren't here simply to buy a half kilo of salmon fillet, but want instead a complete recipe for a meal adapted to a particular occasion", says a business manager in a fishmonger's shop.

Sales staffs advise on how to prepare the seafood, what to serve with it and what wines are suitable. Some will even have advice about how to set and decorate the table. In this way, a new "product" is created over the counter, and it often becomes unique and adapted to the individual customer.

Quick response to new products

The seafood counters also make it easy to test new products, for example by offering samples. The samples make the customer aware of new products and encourage immediate feedback. In larger companies, product development is often something that is carefully planned, done in large scale and is time consuming.

But with many customers in the shop, there can be little time to talk with each individual customer. One must select with whom to become acquainted and listen to.

"Customers who are interested in more than eating their fill often provide the most important feedback. They appreciate seafood experiences and often have good knowledge from before. It can be particularly beneficial to learn from these customers", says Ottesen.

The project was financed by the Research Council of Norway.