Industry News | February 15, 2013 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Seafood Concept or Not, Brands Gear Up for Lenten Season

The Super Bowl hype may have fizzled weeks ago, but for seafood companies, their Super Bowl season is just beginning, thanks to the start of the Lenten season.

With many customers abstaining from meat consumption, Lent can be a true goldmine for seafood brands and other chains that introduce seafood-focused LTOs and menu.

At Captain D’s, chief marketing officer Jonathan Muhtar says units see a 5–10 percent bump in sales around this time of year, compared to the yearly average.

To entice customers during Lent, the brand is focusing on a new product: hand-breaded fish tenders served with a new D’s Dippin’ Sauce. The item comes in a $4.99 meal deal.

Two additional meal deals—a 12-piece butterfly shrimp meal and a fish and butterfly shrimp meal—will be in the spotlight, too.

For seafood brand Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips, the Lenten season is hands-down the busiest of the year. Fred Kirvan, COO, says many of the brand’s units bring in 30–35 percent of the full year’s business during the roughly six weeks of Lent.

Though not a seafood company, Huddle House is hoping the reintroduction of its Fish Celebration menu will capture interest during the Lenten season.

While the menu was tested last year to wild success, chief marketing officer Marc Butler says the brand waited until Lent to bring it back in full force.

“There’s such a heightened awareness of seafood offerings right about [now], so you want to take advantage of that,” he says.

Because Huddle House has a limited media budget, Butler says piggybacking on Lent makes it easier to promote and build awareness for the Fish Celebration menu.

The menu includes two basic items—breaded codfish and shrimp—prepared in different manners. Butler says the lead offer on the menu is a trio of seafood baskets—a fish basket with fish and fries; a shrimp basket with shrimp and fries; and a fish sandwich basket with a fish sandwich and fries—each for $4.99.

“It’s very good quality for a $4.99 price point,” Butler says. “It’s comparable to something you’d see at some of the [quick-service restaurants].

“Ours is priced like a quick serve,” he adds, “but we think the quality is more like a full-service restaurant.”

In past years, Arthur Treacher’s has highlighted various menu items, like flounder and crab cakes, but it’s going back to its roots to shine the spotlight on its famous fish & chips.

“Fish & chips, just as a product, is what a lot of people refer to as the original fast food back in the old country, in England,” says Gary Occhiogrosso, chief development officer for Arthur Treacher’s. He says the brand’s proprietary batter dip, purchased in the 1860s from an English company, is still used today, and it plans to play on this idea of history and authenticity.

“We still hold true to what made [our fish & chips] famous and what made it popular going all the way back to the very beginning of the brand,” he says.

To further highlight its heritage, the brand is using retro marketing materials—from point-of-purchase items to old-school Arthur Treacher’s commercials—to get the word out for Lent.

With brands all over the spectrum rolling out seafood items—from McAlister’s Deli with its new Cajun Shrimp items to McDonald’s Fish McBites—chains are fighting for their slice of the Lent pie. This means the real challenge isn’t introducing a Lent-friendly item; rather, it’s making that item or menu stand out.

Captain D’s Muhtar says the brand’s identity as a seafood expert in the industry is a major differentiator.

“We’re known as a destination for great seafood, so we feel that we have an inherent advantage over all the players that jump into this space only at this time of the year,” he says.

“Most of the players in the industry are focusing on some sort of a square fish sandwich,” he adds, “and we’re clearly in a different space there, although we can provide a similar value.”

Occhiogrosso says the brand’s authenticity sets it apart against other brands with Lent-season menu.

“There’s a level of authenticity because it’s what we do,” he says. “We’re not a hamburger chain selling fish.

“When you look at the quick-service industry, you have a lot of [brands] out there and they add fish to their menu,” Occhiogrosso continues. “Fish is what we do. I don’t want to say it’s the only thing we do, because we do have some other products, but it is the core business for Arthur Treacher’s. So during Lent, when fish becomes a staple and … the usage is accelerated, why not go to a place that specializes in that product?”

By Mary Avant