Food distributors, restaurants and grocery stores anxiously anticipate the Lenten season, which brings an increase in sales of fish and seafood products.
Friday fish dinners throughout Lent - which runs from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday - at many churches and fire halls create extra business for food distributors.
"We sell 10 times what we sell during the regular season during Lent. It is very important for us. Seafood is a high dollar volume business," said Bill Blackburn, vice president of Blackburn-Russell Co., Bedford.
Mirror photo illustration by Gary M. Baranec and Tom Worthington II
Bob George (left) of Puzzletown and Banks Wallace of Newry prepare a batch of baked fish March 5 for the Lenten fish fry at St. Patrick’s Church in Newry. The parish holds an all-you-can eat seafood buffet from 4 to 7 p.m. every Friday during Lent in the school hall.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Michaela Frank, 7, of Hollidaysburg helps prepare for St. Patrick Church’s Lenten seafood buffet March 5 by setting out coleslaw and applesauce.
"We see about a 25 percent increase in sales during Lent," said Dennis Sullivan, operating manager at Shelco Seafood Co., Hollidaysburg.
U.S. Foodservice Inc., Altoona, is the distributor for many of the local organizations that offer Friday fish dinners.
"It does spike our sales through the fish fries and restaurants offering Lenten specials. People go out more on Fridays during Lent. The traffic and demand increase, and sales increase as a result," division President Rocco Alianiello said. "We provide for most of the churches in the area - cod, haddock, macaroni salad and coleslaw. We see a pickup in sales."
St. Patrick's Church in Newry, which offers a Lenten seafood buffet, is a U.S. Foodservice customer. St. Patrick's averages 775 meals in three hours each Friday, buffet chairman Jim Weaver said.
"Our food sales have gone up a bit over the years, but prices for the products also have crept up. We have a good reputation because of the quality of the products. We buy almost everything from them," Weaver said.
Another U.S. Foodservice customer, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, sells about 500 dinners at Father Kelley Hall each Friday, said the Rev. D. Timothy Grimme, the parish's pastor.
Lenten season means a significant increase in business at Granny's Restaurant, Altoona, which offers all-you-can-eat fish and shrimp dinners, manager Julie Rago Wolford said.
"We always gear up for Lent, it's our time to shine," Rago Wolford said.
"You never know when a customer may come in for the first time and become a regular customer," she said. "We probably see about a 20 percent increase in business during Lent."
Area grocery stores also benefit from the Lenten season.
"The Lenten season provides us with a unique opportunity to showcase our high quality seafood offerings. During this time period, the popularity of seafood items increases in all stores, with many stores experiencing double-digit percentage sales increases," Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts said.
"White fish is very popular, but we also see an increase in purchases of all fish fillets."
Lent is also a very big seafood season for Martin's Food Markets and Giant Food stores, spokeswoman Tracy Pawelski said.
"During the Lenten season, we see approximately a 5 percent increase in seafood sales primarily in fresh fish fillets and steaks," Pawelski said. "We see a spike on seafood shopping on Thursdays and Fridays."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.