Verlasso Food TruckBy Christine Blank

Mini buttermilk waffles with Verlasso salmon and maple bacon bourbon jam. Caprese skewers with seared salmon alongside red and yellow cherry tomatoes and a fresh basil and balsamic reduction.

While one would expect to see these elevated seafood dishes at an upscale restaurant in New York or Los Angeles, California, they are actually being served on a food truck, as part of an innovative collaboration between Cleveland, Ohio-based grocery chain Heinen’s Fine Foods and sustainable salmon supplier Verlasso salmon in Miami, Florida.

Verlasso is sponsoring the Heinen’s salmon-focused food truck at the Lincoln Park Zoo Food Truck Social in Chicago, Illinois, on 13 May, in an effort to gain recognition for Heinen’s brand in the Chicago area. While the retailer operates 18 stores in Ohio and is more well-known in the state, it operates four newer stores in Chicago and wants to grow that market, Marty Gaul, director of seafood for Heinen’s, told SeafoodSource.

“This is our first adventure with a food truck. Verlasso found a few different events going on in Chicago and we selected the food trucks because we thought it would allow us to get in front of as many customers as possible,” Gaul said.

“We look at this food truck opportunity as helping Heinen’s delve deeper into the Chicago community,” said Jennifer Bushman, principal of Route to Market, which oversees strategic business development, marketing collaboration and culinary for Verlasso. The food truck is also designed to increase consumption of salmon and seafood. Messages on the food truck include the fact that 90 percent of Americans don’t eat enough seafood, along a graphic with a muscle man, according to Bushman.

Verlasso and Heinen’s already have a very productive sales partnership, working together on promotions, demos and events over the past four years.

“Verlasso salmon is our number one selling item in all of our seafood departments,” Gaul said. The high sales are due to the fact that it is a sustainable salmon that is yellow rated by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and because Heinen’s runs specials on the salmon for all the major holidays and at other times of the year, according to Gaul.

In addition, Verlasso’s team supports the stores with cooking classes, recipes, demos and events. For example, Heinen’s and Verlasso have held cooking/ wellness education classes that teach shoppers how to incorporate fish into their daily diets.

While Heinen’s typically retails fresh Verlasso salmon for USD 14.99 (EUR 13.66) per pound, it holds several one-day sales that tout the salmon for USD 9.99 (EUR 9.19) a pound. “At that time, we will move 6,000 to 7,000 pounds [of Verlasso salmon] per day,” Gaul said.

As part of Heinen’s “Taste for Rewards” loyalty program, the chain recently retailed Verlasso’s frozen bags of 5-ounce skinless fillets for USD 8.99 (EUR 8.19) per pound. “I wasn’t sure how it would go, but it was very well-received by our customers. We went through 100 to 150 cases,” Gaul said.

Heinen’s, which features a strong prepared food program in its stores, also highlights the salmon in its deli and prepared foods cases. It offers roasted Verlasso salmon and Sweet and Smoky Roasted Verlasso salmon in its gourmet prepared foods case. “They have been a huge hit with our customers. They like the mild, buttery flavor of the salmon,”