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Why does Whole Foods' Seafood Dept Suck?

Everything else at WFs is great, including their meats...but for some reason their seafood department is really disappointing. Other than their occasional whole fish display, i find their fish to be fairly old and smelly. I have had a lot of bad experiences with their seafood from various different so cal stores. Is it just me or do they suck when it comes to seafood??

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  1. Not just you - I'm in Manhattan and their seafood always just looks quite sad to me - quit buying it ages ago.

    1. In general, seafood degrades very fast. Also, sourcing various seafood items in large quantities of at least acceptable quality for a chain like WF is difficult as most of it comes from the wild - not farms or ranches (but we all know aquaculture is on the rise). No one can "line up their ducks" with wild sources like one can on a farm or ranch in anticipation for demand. My guess would be that most of WF's stock is fresh- or flash-frozen. Moreover, if they've created a reputation of having subpar seafood in an otherwise good to great market environment, this is really going to stand out in shoppers' minds and a self-perpetuating syndrome will set itself in motion. Lousy seafood? I ain't going to even think twice for now on to buy it from here. The seafood sits, and who knows what they do with it. Because this department sees their product as a sideshow, they aren't going to invest in better product - it would be a waste as they know they aren't going to sell much anyway - it's just window dressing. Turnover is key in seafood. If it ain't selling, it's going to sit. And if it's going to sit, it's going to get old. And if it looks (and smells) old, then it ain't going to sell.

      1. The one that I go to (Pasadena, CA) is fine. I buy lots of seafood(mostly shrimp, trout, salmon, and scallops)and have never had a problem. Now their old competitor, Wild Oats, that was another story...

        1 Reply
        1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

          I'm not surprised. Like all of their other departments in all of their stores, the quality of each department can vary wildly. My guess is they started out with a good reputation which perpetuates good turnover. This general phenomenon occurs at most grocery chains that are at least decent. I think alot if it also depends on local customer profiles and the surrounding competition as well.

        2. I buy seafood from WFs in the Boston area at least once weekly and I have only had a problem once. Of course, I was able to return the piece of fish for a full refund that one time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: veggielover

            WF is very good about that - the "return" factor is built into their prices. Of all the grocery chains I've ever come into contact with, WF has the profit margin that can best absorb their returns policy.

          2. I got sucked in again yesterday and bought some halibut from Costco in Laguna Niguel in California. It said it was packed that day. I opened it and it had a faint fishy odor. Now this was about 3/4 of a pound for $10.99. Their meat is awesome, but this piece of fish was just OK, and barely that. I vowed I won't buy fish from them again, and would buy it from Santa Monica Seafood in Costa Mesa, which has always been pricey but has always had a sweetness to its fillets that knocks your socks off, no matter how you cook it. Today I had some wahoo from them, SMSeafood, and it was incredibly good. That said, maybe Costco can't get it together to buy, ship and sell fish; or maybe they use their meat people who don't understand it; but count this chowhound out forever from buying fresh fish at their store. A shame because their beef and lamb is, as I said, awesome.

            3 Replies
            1. re: EclecticEater

              I agree - most land protein does quite well with time. Seafood? Nope - again - in general, big chains in general have a sourcing issue with such highly perishable products.

              1. re: EclecticEater

                Their seafood is usually good in Ontario, and they did a fine job distributing wild sockeye this summer, from Alaska and B.C. We didn't get halibut. Mussels have been good, but I have to get 5lb.
                In most chains when I look at a tray of fish, I smell it carefully. If there is any hint of a smell getting through the packaging, I move on. And it has to look fresh too, and be used same day.

                1. re: jayt90

                  Haven't been to one since stopped selling softshell crabs in Md. due to a few nuts' complaints. Weanies.

              2. carln -- Give Whole Foods' seafood another chance...don't cross them off!

                I agreed with you -- until last week when I purchased some wild salmon at the Canoga Park/Woodland Hills store on Ventura Blvd. Because I, too, have had many disappointments with my seafood purchases there, I had not bought WF seafood for a long time.

                But this past week, I spoke with the seafood counter person about wanting something special for dinner. He directed me to their wild salmon, and it was very fresh and flavorful...remarkable...and yes, I am VERY particular.

                So, I think it is still hit-or-miss, and perhaps only a few of the items in the case are acceptable, but talk with the seafood seller at the counter and maybe you will find something good.

                1 Reply
                1. re: liu

                  Here in the middle of the continent, great seafood is really hard to find.

                  I think WFM does a great job at one store, crappy at another.

                  I order seafood from freshseafood.com, in Pike Place Seattle. Overall I give them an A+. One time I ordered some "bay scalllops", ecch. Treated with tri-sodium-polyphosphate. I could taste the bitterness. I called them. They replaced them with excellent sea sushi-grade scallops.

                  They aren't the cheapest place to buy seafood. Add overnight-shipping charge, it IS NOT CHEAP. Is it as fresh as Seattlelites can get it? No. For buyers not on/near the coasts, is there any better supplier? I don't know. I do know they can get you stuff that was caught/harvested yesterday, which isn't as good as you can get from them driving to Pike Place, but is waay better than the stuff sold here.

                2. Sounds like a West Coast phenomenon - here in Boston their seafood quality is excellent.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: BobB

                    Not really. They aren't that great in MD/NoVa/DC.

                    1. re: repete

                      Sorry to hear it. Maybe they're just especially good here because Boston is such a seafood town, they have plenty of great local suppliers. They do make a point of getting as much of their stuff locally as possible.

                      1. re: BobB

                        I am under the impression that there seafood "processing" plant is in Gloucester. Perhaps that is why we, in Boston, have a better selection.

                  2. no. their produce and cheese departments both stink.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jason carey

                      We've had really good luck in the general LA area with their cheese and produce departments. While they're not cheap, the quality and selection has been good, particularly when one considers the logistics of doing this at a chain level.

                      1. re: jason carey

                        I don't know what you are talking about. I live in Kansas now. Fresh produce is great. For cheeses, which are not fresh-shipped-dependent, their cheeses are fantastic. I went to SF and Monterey this Christmas. If you are saying prices are too high, that's cool. Tell people where you buy, and why.

                      2. I totally agree, Yesterday I bought a piece of halibut at Whole Foods in San Francisco for $22. I brought it home and cooked it, and it was NOT halibut. I don't what it was, but it had no taste and a weird, flaky texture. It was trash fish—my cat wouldn't even eat it. I brought it back to Whole Foods, and they gave me a refund, as they should, and promised me a free piece of fish next time. But I can't believe they're selling some cheap who-knows-what as halibut and charging sky-high prices. Talk about lack of quality control, or fraud...I'm buying my fish elsewhere from now on.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: noevalley

                          That sucks. We got some halibut at our WF (Fairfax VA) a couple weeks ago and it was fantastic. It actually tasted like fish, as opposed to the usual tasteless white fish we get (regardless of what it's called).

                          In general, we've always had good luck with WF seafood. If there is one reason I would give for it sucking, it would be the prices.

                          1. re: noevalley

                            i would have taken it back. they'll take everything back. show them. how else can they change? even just to get a refund, it helps stores if you tell them what they're doing wrong...

                            1. re: Emme

                              Read noevalley's post all the way through - (s)he did.

                            2. re: noevalley

                              Wow, that's too bad! I don't have a very discerning taste for fish, so I probably wouldn't know the difference. That said, we've been very happy with the fish we purchased recently at our local WF (Plymouth Meeting, PA).
                              I agree with BobW, the prices are very high, but we've been so happy with the quality compared to our Giant (UGH). :)

                              1. re: noevalley

                                Seafood is variable. I went to a local fishmonger in Portland to get "fresh" dungeness crab. They kept them "live" in a tank. I went to SF, "live in a tank" at Andronico. Dungness crabs not feeding, auto-metabolize. They emit ammonia. Not really tasty. Lobsters in a tank also auto-metabolize. They don't develop ammonia, but they lose muscle bulk and flavor.

                                If you want a great dungness crab, get it just brought in, or catch it yourself, or get cooked. Lobster, you can't beat caught it yourself. If you buy live, caught a couple days ago.

                                1. re: noevalley

                                  I just don't buy this "trashing" of WF. First off, WF has no reason to try to pass of some lesser-value fish like pollock or orange roughy or rock cod as halibut. Secondly, if you couldn't visually recognize something as halibut or not, A. you don't know your fish, or B. it was tail section.

                                  Fish parts are different. Think of cattle. A piece of tenderloin is different from any other piece of beef. A ribeye is very different from a rump roast. Same cow. Tail sections are work-doing muscles. Shoulders don't do much work. They do store fat for energy.

                                  Time of and place harvest yields different results. If halibut have been gorging on herring for three weeks, they are going to be better than ones that have been catabolizing their fat waiting for the feeding-frenzy season.

                                  Consider Copper River salmon. "The best!" Not really. The ones that have to swim 1500 mi to spawn have more fat than the ones that have to swim 50 mi. If you take an Oregon springer that has to live four months hunkered down in a river before it spwns in the fall, that's a great fish when caught migrating not too far from the ocean, bright and silvery. Three months later, dusky going reddish, not a great fish. It doesn't mean it isn't still a salmon, but it's undergone changes.

                                  Pink salmon is not considered to be great, compared to king (chinook) or sockeye or even silver (coho). BUt fishing in BC, I saw gorgeous ready-to-spawn sockeye in late August. I just watched. They were no longer delish. I caught some silver-sided pinkies. downstream, less than a week from the ocean. Ooh, goood.. Not as good as sockeyes had been a month earlier, but waay better than were' ready to spawn red skinned, hook-jawed sockeyes. I did catch a 17 inch pink-fleshed rainbow trout in their stream. It was tasty! I caught and fed it a white grub.

                                2. The seafood department in our local store (Milford CT) isn't too bad - pricey, but overall most of the stuff looks pretty good, and the stuff I've bought has been fine. But - the store is semi- new and might still be in the wooing process, so to speak; and they use a number of local sources. That being said, I only buy fish from WF if Gambardella's doesn't have what I'm looking for.

                                  1. I'm in Manhattan too and the seafood at 59th Street AND 96th has been severely disappointing. We got some great gulf shrimp there back last summer (pre Oil scare) and they were to die for. But recently we've sunk serious cash into shrimp and fish that was called "Wild Caught" but honestly, mehhh, I beg to differ.

                                    I wonder if anyone else has the impression they are lying about the seafoods' point of origin? Because the "Wild Caught" shrimp from "USA" tasted a whole lot like farm shrimp from thailand in my opinion.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: tonmeister

                                      Can't comment on the point of origins regarding Whole Foods' seafood selection; however, I was in the Chambers St. store yesterday and was BLOWN AWAY by how good all the fish looked. For a Saturday, the place was stocked, everything looked and smelled excellent. I would have no problem going back and picking up fresh fish on a Saturday from this store.

                                      Now, typically I shop at 24th and 7th, and the fish selection there is certainly not tops, but it is comparable to a Kings in Jersey.

                                      On a counterpoint, I typically by tuna and whole fish from The Lobster Place on Bleecker, and the quality and price are comparable to WF.

                                      1. re: rifkind81

                                        Couild be that there is too much pressure on the Fish Dept. manager,(team leader)
                                        to limit their waste as in loss being thrown out due to being old. Team leaders are evaluated on sales, less cogs. and overhead.

                                    2. I find that as well. That awfulness extends to the meat counter - yes the meat looks good, but they are not butchers and couldn't tell you the difference between cuts of meat if they were reading it. Its sad. WF has lost my respect. Blah - sorry... rant complete.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: redips

                                        It depends on where you go. Our WFMs have very different seafood displays. At the WFM-created market, the seafood is attractive and very good. At the former Wild Oats, too much oxidization/ age browning. What WFM tries to do in buying out competitors is support the competitors' staff, rather than firing people and rebuilding from scratch. With rapid expansion, corporate isn't able to totally keep on top of things.

                                        1. re: MarkKS

                                          John Mackey is no longer chairman, Leonard Green Partners is the major shareholder ever since they bailed out WF during the OATS fiasco. Green PArtners owns approx. 20 million shares common and is setting policy through the Board.. Apparently there has been a shift more towards "what sells" not Mackey's "What do we want people to eat".

                                        2. re: redips

                                          You have to go with what you experience. Find better stores. Patronize them.

                                        3. Same in Fort Lauderdale. Great selection but overall poor quality. I'd say 80% of the fish is not worth buying. Sometimes you can smell the fish department from the entrance. We stopped buying fish there years ago. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, people have never seen a fish peddler let alone fresh fish. For them it's great.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: Ray2

                                            That's too bad that a WFM on the coast can't deliver fresh seafood. I think one of ours in the hinterland of Kansas does a good job. It's all frozen/thawed. I grew up on Monterey Bay where you could get caught-this-morning fish and crabs. Even better was catching it yourself, e.g. getting some afternoon abs or lobster (in SoCal), they were still alive when you prepared them. Going to Baja, catching yellowfin tuna, yellowtail (jack,) dorado (mahi-mahi), even conch diving Cabo Pulmo reef, and it was on the grill a couple hours later.

                                            Before discovering WFM here, I used to frequently order overnight-shipped seafood from freshseafood.com at Pike Place Seattle. Excellent quality. I still order sometimes, but Fed Ex air charges make it really expensive. But they ship wild-caught NW salmon for free. Their sturgeon is really yummy, and jarred oysters delish. (Actually, taking oysters off the rocks in San Juan Islands, and eating them then and there that's tasty. Also putting them into the coals of a fire.)

                                            I've gotten lots of clams. A few rock scallops.

                                            I've caught lots of salmon/trout/char species, chinook, coho, sockeye, pink, steelhead, rainbow, golden, brook, brown, cutthroat, dolly varden.

                                            One time I spent a couple weeks living with native Melanesians in Fiji. Giant tridacna clam (that I caught, getting this 100 pounder up from 80 feet required full buoyancy compensator inflation, and really hard kicking, the tribe loved it), lobster, trevally. Green turtle wasn't really like chicken. More like mild-flavor NY strip steak. Personally, I would leave turtles alone, but it wasn't my island to make the rules, and no way would I have offended my hosts. They were awesome hosts. The men invited me to the (real) kava ceremony, roots chewed and expectorated by the women, men around the fire well after midnight.

                                            I lived in New Zealand and Hawaii. Great seafood, of course.

                                            I've had fresh restaurant and market seafood in Maine, Boston and Key West. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

                                            So when I say one of our WFMs has good seafood (not coastal caught today, but not fishy-smelly in the slightest), I think I have a reasonable frame of reference. If your WFM has stinky fish, don't buy it, and do take the time to email corporate headquarters.

                                            1. re: MarkKS

                                              Markks, WFMI is not the whole foods of past years. Now that Green Partners own approx. 10% of the outstanding stock, and Mackey has had his wings clipped, after the Wild Oats debacle, it is a bottom line driven corporation; not the leading edge Organic provider of quality foods. John Mackey's vision has now taken a back seat at best. Expansion has come in packaged foods, wine, and prepared foods, all high margin depts. Perishables like meat, fish and produce are feeling the effects of the "Return per Sq. Ft." drive.

                                              1. re: ospreycove

                                                It may be time for reinvention. Like maybe John Mackey sells his stock, doesn't have to do a no-compete clause, and goes for a new market. If he is still young enough. Or maybe invest in younger people.

                                                1. re: MarkKS

                                                  Mark ks.........That is a good idea!!!!

                                            2. re: Ray2

                                              The best fresh fish is what you can find. Personally, the best fresh fish was what I've caught.

                                              I was reading "Sunset Cookbook" on abalone, and they recommend keeping it for 24 hours to let it "loosen". I used to catch abs, and pound and sautee them 3-6 hours after taking them. Wow! Greens, reds, pinks. Capture zone laws have changed. Oh well.

                                            3. Actually most of their produce is industrial organic and so is most of their meat, so frankly most of their fresh products are bad, but you are right, their seafood is vile.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: jason carey

                                                Well, figure out how to grow your own, or support local farmers who do sustainable farming. Nobody has to buy at Whole Foods.

                                                If you live on the coast, learn to fish, or find fishmongers who sell it-was-caught/harvested earlier today.