With consumers’ purchasing trends increasingly reflecting their desire to lead healthier lifestyles, the fresh department is a vital driver of sales growth. Yet seafood sales tend to lag those of other fresh categories, such as salad and vegetables.
For many retailers, the six-week Lenten period between Ash Wednesday and Easter provides an essential boost in seafood sales, because many Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Last year, U.S. retailers generated a whopping $1 billion in seafood sales during Lent alone (seven weeks ended April 15, 2017), according to New York-based market research firm Nielsen.
Bright Spots in Fresh Seafood
For the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24, 2018
But outside of the Lenten season, seafood sales slump, and of the five areas of the fresh food department, seafood has the lowest household penetration, at 54% compared to meat (98%), deli (99%), produce (99%) and bakery (99%).
Despite this, seafood sales are up this year: Dollar sales increased 3.4% in the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24, 2018 (10 days into Lent), according to Nielsen data. However, a heaping portion of that growth can likely be attributed to the 4.5% increase in average retail price during that time, because volume sales were down 1.1% over the same period.
Sustainable Seafood Sparks Sales
Although overall seafood sales are somewhat flat, certain fresh seafood options, including shrimp, scallops and flounder, are significantly outpacing their performance in dollar and volume sales compared to a year ago. But variety in the seafood category expands beyond these three popular options, and according to Nielsen research, nearly 20% of U.S. consumers say they want to add more fish to their diets.
However, consumers have also expressed concerns about seafood quality and freshness, while other shoppers are unsure about cooking techniques and methods of preparation, which have caused barriers to purchase.
Prepared Seafood Is a Growing Opportunity for Retailers
Includes pre-seasoned fish
Sustainability also factors heavily in shoppers’ purchasing decisions, because consumers increasingly seek products that are responsibly sourced. Sales of seafood with sustainability claims increased 3% over the past year, while sales of seafood with Marine Stewardship Council labeling grew 27% and sales of seafood with Sustainable Dishing labeling grew 30%, according to Nielsen.
Retailers have an opportunity to educate shoppers about freshness, sustainability and preparation, as well as use methods that have effectively boosted growth in other fresh departments, such as the deli-prepared area. For example, when food is partially or fully prepared, time-strapped shoppers have access to quick, healthy meal options that also remove the guesswork from the preparation. As a result, retailers are experiencing growth in seafood offerings that are fully or partially prepared.
Fresh Food: Penetration and Shopping Frequency
Meal kits also present an opportunity for retailers to increase sales when it comes to prepared foods. With $154.6 million in sales of in-store meal kits last year, retailers can tap this rapidly expanding grocery category to promote seafood growth, especially because 29% of meal-kit users say they eat more seafood with meal kits, Nielsen data shows.
Consumers shop differently for seafood compared to the way they shop other grocery categories, according to Nielsen. But retailers can harness consumer desire to include more fish in their diets by encouraging trials, providing preparation guidance, showcasing convenience and finding ways to appeal to consumer demand for healthier lifestyles.