Fresh Food

Fresh Ways to Hook More Everyday Seafood Shoppers

Sales of seafood are slowly increasing, but this increase can boost the entire store
Photograph: Shutterstock

For myriad reasons, seafood can be a tough sell in American supermarkets. Across all categories—fresh, frozen and shelf-stable—seafood sales ring up about $12 billion annually, considerably less than fresh meat at $50 billion and produce at $60 billion, according to FMI’s The Power of Seafood 2019.

However, the report found that one-third of seafood purchasers rate themselves as adventurous when it comes to food, nearly twice as high as their meat purchasing counterparts. But seafood consumption, while on the rise in the past several years, still trails its protein counterparts considerably. Americans on average eat only 16 pounds of seafood annually but consume 109 pounds of poultry and 108 pounds of meat, according to Arlington, Va.-based FMI’s most recent seafood study.

Even though consumption overall is still low, attracting the consumer who does buy seafood can be profitable for the entire store. Customers who buy seafood have triple the average basket size and shop more frequently. With seafood in the basket, the average spend is $95, compared to $34.37 without seafood, according to Nielsen, New York.

The Top 3 Stay the Same

Seafood consumers may say they see themselves as more adventurous eaters, but the top three seafood varieties remain unchanged: Shrimp, salmon and tuna continue to be the most purchased seafood species, accounting for 60% of all seafood sales, according to FMI.

“If you look at the No. 1 species—both by volume and value—at the seafood counter, it’s salmon,” says Gavin Gibbons, VP of communications for McLean, Va.-based National Fisheries Institute, who goes on to address another important topic in seafood. “Salmon is both wild and farmed. That is one of the few species on that list where you will see both farmed and wild. Shrimp is No. 2 and has the same profile. Consumers are more understanding that the choice is between wild and farmed not wild vs. farmed.”


Seafood Sales by Variety

52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2019

* Percent change from a year ago | Source: Nielsen


For a long time, there was a misconception that the two methods were competing against each other, Gibbons says. But more educated consumers now understand that for the wider sustainability of seafood in general, the two work in tandem.

Retailers as Educators 

But whether the fish is wild or farmed, sustainability is a hot topic in the category. “At the seafood counter, sustainability is an important part of people’s understanding of the product,” Gibbons says. “At the same time, a lot of consumers are likely to be suffering from certification overload, which means, ‘OK, let me get out my wallet card, let me check my app, let me make sure there’s a seal associated with this fish before I buy it.’ That tends to turn people off, but having an educated workforce that can say, ‘Yes, we have a sustainability plan in place. We have sustainability benchmarks here at the fresh counter’ is a lot more helpful. Consumers want that work done for them; they want the store to do that for them so they don’t have to.”


Seafood Sales by Store Department

52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2019

* Percent change from a year ago | Source: Nielsen


Retailers have taken that request to heart and many are providing that type of information either right at the fresh counter or in ways that are easily accessible to customers. At Hy-Vee stores, the department uses its Responsible Choice symbol to demonstrate that the product meets the company’s procurement policy (spelled out on the retailer’s website) and are caught or farmed in a responsible manner. Hy-Vee uses the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood program for its guidance and sources only product that is rated Green Best Choices or Yellow Good Alternatives by the program. Customers can also turn to Hy-Vee’s Seafoodies blog for additional information as well as recipes incorporating seafood.

At Roche Bros., the department uses signage and QR codes for customers to find out where the products were caught from the “boat the seafood was sourced from, the captain of the boat, and the method of fishing used for that catch (trawling, purse seine, gillnet, etc.),” says Josh Naughton, director of deli, seafood, bakery and specialty cheese for Roche Bros. But sustainability isn’t the only concern. “Some consumers are concerned with the sustainability of a species, but more questions are asked of where the fish was caught and is it local,” he says.


2020: Year of Plant-Based Seafood

Plant-based options are infiltrating the meat counters at retailers across the nation, and while seafood has been on the back burner, 2020 may well be the year of plant-based seafood. While the reach is still small—annual sales of fish substitutes in the United States are only around $10 million, compared with $800 million for plant-based meat, according to Good Food Institute—it is poised for growth, much like meatless products were a few years ago.

General Mills’ venture arm, 301 Inc., and Greenleaf Foods recently invested in Gathered Foods, the makers of Good Catch plant-based seafood products, which are available in major U.S. retailers. While the only products currently available are shelf-stable options, it is only a matter of time before plant-based seafood hits the seafood counter. Impossible Foods, maker of the Impossible burger, is also at work to create a plant-made seafood from anchovy-flavored broth and heme, a protein released from genetically modified yeast.


Frequency of Purchasing

Source: FMI Power of Seafood


“PCC currently offers many plant-based options throughout the store, and our customers expect to have plant-based options in all departments,” says David Sanz, meat and seafood merchandiser for PCC Community Markets. “The plant-based seafood selection continues to grow.”

For Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, plant-based options are “great for consumers who follow strictly vegetarian or vegan diets, or those with allergies, to have the option,” says Megan Rider, domestic marketing director. However, the nutritional benefits—such as omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA—can’t easily be replaced in plant-based options, she says. “We do think the availability of these items will keep conversations about sustainability within the seafood industry prevalent.”

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