Fresh Food

Seafood Sales Surge During the Pandemic

Fresh, frozen and shelf-stable varieties all saw double-digit percentage growth in 2020
Photograph: Shutterstock

Consumers bought more fresh, frozen and shelf-stable seafood in 2020 as opportunities to enjoy their favorite fish and shellfish dishes at restaurants dwindled during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Volume and sales grew for all three seafood categories in 2020, according to data from IRI and 210 Analytics. Frozen seafood, which has seen its dollar-sales trajectory accelerate since 2017, recorded the strongest gains in both dollars and volume last year, with dollar growth climbing 35.3% over 2019 and volume increasing 30.4%. 

That solid growth tracks with the performance of frozen foods across the board in 2020, as consumers sought the flexibility of frozen meal and snack options—especially in familiar flavors or from trusted brands—that they could prepare on an as-needed basis. Still, among all items in the freezer case, seafood was a standout: Frozen seafood's share of total store sales grew more than any other frozen item's, ahead of frozen novelties, pizza, breakfast foods, processed poultry and appetizers. 

Seafood's Strong 2020

  • Fresh seafood: Dollar sales up 24.5% to $6.7 billion.
  • Frozen seafood: Dollar sales up 35.3% to $7 billion.
  • Shelf-stable seafood: Dollar sales up 20.3% to $2.8 billion.

Fresh seafood dollar sales and volume climbed 24.5% and 22.5%, respectively, over 2019. Shelf-stable seafood, from a significantly lower base, saw dollar sales rise 20.3% and volumes reverse a five-year decline to climb 17.3%.

What specifically were consumers fishing for in 2020? Salmon reigned supreme, with sales of $2.2 billion (up 19.2%). Crab clawed its way past shrimp in sales, with sales up almost 63% to $1.3 billion. Rounding out the top 10 were shrimp (up 10.8% to $898 million), lobster (up 56.1% to $447 million), catfish, tilapia, cod, scallops, tuna and trout. 

Nearly 73% of U.S. consumers were frozen seafood buyers at the end of 2020, up 5.6% from the year before, according to IRI and 210 Analytics. About half, 50.7%, were buyers of fresh seafood, up 3.8% from the year before. Boomers, African Americans and Asian Americans all overindexed on seafood purchases. 


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