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As Americans finish up the leftovers in the fridge from the Thanksgiving holiday, retailers worldwide are planning for the prime season for selling fresh food: Christmas. The big day is a little more than three weeks away, which means the crunch is on to fulfill orders that customers will be serving their guests. While they will be stocking up the pantry with dry goods, the fresh food selection becomes a critical driver of shoppers' store choice.

Behind Thanksgiving, Christmas is the highest-selling week of the year, and U.S. fresh food sales are 8 percent higher than average, according to Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts® Shopper Insights. Fresh foods account for 32 percent of total food sales during that week (compared with the 30 percent annual average).

While the top 10 fresh food categories (Beef, bananas, potatoes, onions, chicken, tomatoes, deli bulk meat, packaged salad, processed lunch meat and pork) are important for retailers, it's the "destination categories" — including seafood — that play a pivotal role in the consumer's decision on where to shop for the holiday.

There are 10 food categories that are more likely to be in the average U.S. shopper's holiday basket compared with the rest of the year: Hams, nuts and seeds, breakfast sausage, celery, shrimp, citrus, deli specialty cheese, potatoes, bacon and herbs, spices and seasonings. U.S. shoppers are 1.4 times more likely to buy shrimp the week of Christmas than any other week of the year. The problem this year is that elevated shrimp prices as a result of early mortality syndrome will likely put a damper on sales.

If you haven't already varied your product offerings for that week, now is the time to consider other products like lobster or scallops that may help your store retain those holiday sales. Look to value-added products such as crab cakes, bacon-wrapped scallops and smoked salmon to put next to this year's higher-priced shrimp. You won't get time to explain to your customers why the prices are high, so variety is the spice of retail life.

This year Christmas falls on a Wednesday, so many consumers will take a full week off to both prepare and then recover from the shopping melee. This could be a boon to retailers who plan appropriately; make sure you are one of them.

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