On Trend: What's Happening in Seafood

On Trend: What's Happening in Seafood

March 4, 2013

Don Ladhoff

The New England Journal of Medicine published a landmark study last week on the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, reinforcing the health-protective qualities of this seafood-rich eating pattern.  This comes at an interesting time, as seafood consumption in the U.S. has been on the decline.  The latest figures from the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that seafood consumption was 15 pounds in 2011, marking the third consecutive year of decline and the lowest number since 2002. That said, there are many trends working in seafood’s favor—and this spells “opportunity.”

Seafood Sales Increased in 2012

Seafood department dollar sales grew 3.6% in 2012, according to retail sales data from Nielsen Perishables Group (NPG), with 80.6% of department dollar sales coming from fresh seafood and 15.9% coming from prepared seafood items (the remainder is “other” seafood, such as dips and condiments).

Fin fish is the largest segment of the seafood department, accounting for 37.6% of dollar sales.  Salmon and tilapia accounted for much of the growth in fin fish; each species offered lower average retail prices in 2012 due to abundant supply, and volume sales grew by more than 20%.  Salmon is the number one selling species with 37.5% of finfish dollar sales, followed by tilapia with a 24.9% share.  Shrimp accounted for 27.5% of seafood dollar sales and recorded growth of 2.9% versus the prior year.  Crustaceans are the third-largest segment of seafood sales (11.1% of dollars), with nearly two-thirds of sales coming from crabs/crab meat.  Crustaceans’ average retail price declined 5% in 2012, and the segment responded sharply as crab volume increased 20% and lobster sales grew 31%.

Trends Impacting Seafood

Steve Lutz, executive vice president for NPG, recently presented on retail trends and drivers at the Global Seafood Marketing Conference (GSMC).  In his presentation, Lutz noted the consumer’s desire for fresh products and that across “fresh,” four consumer priority areas are proving successful: healthy, convenience, premium/indulgent, and multicultural/global.  The good news for seafood is that it can easily deliver in each of these areas, but success is dependent upon educating the consumer on seafood’s value. 

Lutz noted that seafood has momentum in 2013 and that it was the fastest growing of all the fresh proteins in 2012.  Specifically, seafood is leading all other fresh proteins in dollar/volume velocity growth and it is the only fresh protein seeing an increase in annual trips per buyer.  

Record high meat prices are driving consumers to shift—they’re re-examining their options and opting for value.  Whether it’s switching to value cuts of meat or to new proteins altogether, when consumers decide to change, they are in the right mindset to be educated.  Again, this is an opportunity for seafood to find its place on the plate.

Merchandising for Healthy Profits

Fresh seafood has a lower household penetration than fresh meat, with the average shopper only purchasing seafood five times in a year.  And since seafood is generally more costly, shoppers can be nervous about preparing it properly. Retail dietitians can help educate shoppers on the value of seafood and work collaboratively with seafood buyers and department managers to develop more seafood savvy customers. Here are three merchandising ideas that you can use to “reel in” healthier seafood sales.

  1. Cooking with Confidence.  Use eye-catching signage, easy recipes and savory demos to educate shoppers on how to properly prepare different seafood selections.  Grilling, in particular, is a cooking method that many consumers shy away from yet is naturally healthy and full of flavor.  Consider using a luau theme during summer weekends as a reason to try grilling up two or three different types of seafood, with step-by-step instructions printed on the back of colorful paper placemats.
  2. Nutrition + Description.  Reinforce the nutritional benefits of different species to spur seafood sales, but don’t forget to include product attributes and flavor profiles in your communications.  Shoppers may not be familiar with the tastes and textures of some seafood selections, and will be more likely to try a new item when it is presented as “flaky like halibut” or “sweet and succulent like King crab”.
  3. Preferable Pairings.  Attract more attention and increase sales with suggestive cross-merchandising of related items that encourage healthier preparations, like lemons & limes, spices & rubs or even whole wheat pasta.  Instead of using recipe cards, why not offer “menus” to shoppers, giving a restaurant-style description of three deliciously different and healthy ways that something like salmon can be served with the actual preparation instructions on the reverse.

Don Ladhoff is a recognized expert in retail and shopper marketing.  As President of FreshSmartSolutions, Inc. (www.freshsmartsolutions.com), he leads the development of retail solutions for a diverse group of companies, commodity boards, and retailers spanning the perishables, packaged food, and technology categories.