By Fiona Robinson, SeaFood Business associate publisher and editor
Published on 12 November, 2013
The U.S. seafood industry was presented with a grim reality at this year's Halloween when the government announced that seafood consumption in 2012 had dropped. Pundits have had a little time to chew on the topic, and the reasons for the decline run the gamut.
The environmental camp used it as a soapbox opportunity to say consumers are eating less seafood because of fear of contaminants. Companies that produce testing kits for contaminants capitalized on the moment by saying low consumer confidence in seafood was to blame.
What's really scaring people away from seafood, however, is the price. Name a species that hasn't gone through major price increases in the past few years and you'll find an obscure fish available only to a limited population. In September the Consumer Price Index for seafood reached an all-time high of 147.6, a 48 percent increase from January 2003. The only other protein with a higher CPI than seafood was beef and veal, which reached 166.4 in September, a 67 percent increase in the same time period.
When will Americans get used to the new reality of high seafood prices? Travel anywhere overseas and you'll see the price of food is typically higher than it is in the United States. For decades U.S. supermarkets trained customers to buy seafood when it was on promotion. However, since the recession retailers are offering fewer promotions and shallower discounts.
It's no surprise that supermarket seafood sales spike during Lent, as that remains the big promotional retail push for seafood. Shrimp prices are at an all-time high, so consumers who are still buying seafood switch to smaller-size shrimp that are at a lower price point that they can stomach. But if Americans gave up the equivalent of one Starbucks latte a week they could still afford that bigger-sized shrimp they used to buy.
If the United States is going to increase seafood consumption then retailers need to take the splurge mentality out of the purchasing equation. The "all the best seafood at rock-bottom prices" selling point has to change when it comes to fish, because bargain fish is truly no bargain at all and doesn't instill repeat purchases. What can be done to move the seafood consumption bar along? Focus marketing attention away from price and onto the health benefits of seafood consumption is one obvious choice.
What are your ideas to get Americans to eat more seafood? I welcome your suggestions.