Sharper Hooks for Seafood

Sharper Hooks for Seafood

December 11, 2013

Supermarkets can lure more fish buyers by teaching and building consumer confidence in cooking skills.

Seafood is a primary showcase in supermarkets that could perform better, says F3, once stores teach consumers more about the different species they sell, the waters they come from, and safe, tasty ways to prepare and serve these proteins.  

Fish have obvious visual appeal and protein value.  Yet shoppers – especially those in savings mode - may balk at per-pound prices higher than meats, cheeses and nuts if they lack confidence in their own cooking skills.  

“Supermarkets can play an important role in knocking down this uncertainty,” concurs Gavin Gibbons, director, media relations at the National Fisheries Institute (NFI).  “Once the menu makers [at home] realize how easy and affordable seafood can be…you’ve opened up a new culinary chapter for them.  They start visiting part of the store they’d never been to.”

Fishmongers may hook shoppers with stories of the sea.  But where health and nutrition rise to the surface, registered dietitians in stores should know, understand and be able to explain seafood to customers.  They could help overcome health misinformation, such as the adage that pregnant women shouldn’t eat seafood.  Federal Dietary Guidelines encourage 8 ounces of seafood consumption per week, and note “benefits far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women.” (Source: USDA)

If supermarkets become stronger seafood advocates, they could help buoy the department (and canned fish in center-store) against periodic waves of negative press and placate some of people’s fears.  As for the contentious issue of fish farms, Gibbons sees them filling a vital role:  “Farmed and wild seafood are a team.  Farmed seafood allows for a steady supply and gives wild stock a break, while still giving customers access to their favorites.  Oceans are being fished to their maximum sustainable yield.  Successful fisheries management ensures wild stock will be there well into the future, but growth in seafood production and consumption will come from aquaculture.”

Demand could grow with larger populations to feed, and with higher consumer confidence in the safety, sustainability and culinary payoff of seafood.  The latest per capita figures, however, show seafood consumption in the United States slid to 14.6 pounds in 2012 from 15.0 pounds in 2011.  According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data (released recently by NFI), the downtrend is starker when compared with 2006, a year in which Americans consumed 16.5 pounds per capita.

Some trends bode well for the future.  Three species among the ten most popular fish are growing – salmon, pangasius and tilapia.  While lower salmon prices “at times” triggered purchases last year, Gibbons notes the rise of pangasius and tilapia could mean new consumers are trialing them.  Both are mild white fish, “good starter fish from a palate perspective and from a preparation perspective.  Consumers who are new to eating fish or cooking it tend to gravitate to those types,” he adds.

Pangasius consumption rose to 0.726 pounds per capita in 2012 from 0.628 in 2011; tilapia consumption advanced to 1.476 pounds per capita in 2012 from 1.287 in 2011; salmon edged up to 2.020 pounds per capita in 2012 from 1.952 in 2011, the NOAA data show