By Fiona Robinson, SeaFood Business associate publisher and editor
Published on Sunday, March 11, 2012
Yesterday’s SeaFood Business Summit: Seafood Menu Trends from Datassentials included a panel of restaurant experts who shared data about seafood usage on menus and discussed trends to consider when developing new seafood products.
One of the biggest obstacles for seafood menu mentions over the past few years has been the overall decline in the number of menu items, noted Maeve Webster, director of market intelligence for Los Angeles-based Datassential. Operators streamlined menus and focused on items really driving the bulk of sales.
“To get restaurants to menu more seafood you have to show it’s going to move on the menu. Operators are not inclined to spend money [on a new product] unless it’s going to be a workhorse on the menu,” said Webster.
One menu area where seafood is increasing is in appetizers. Finfish appetizer menu share increased 15 percent in the past four years, and shellfish appetizers increased 3.2 percent in the same period.
One seafood appetizer that has had tremendous growth is the slider, which had 260 percent menu-part growth over the past four years. Another popular item has been the fish taco, with 60 percent growth.
The fastest-growing seafood appetizers were octopus with a 41 percent menu growth over the past four years, followed by ahi tuna with 37 percent share and whitefish with 27 percent growth, according to Webster.
In terms of seafood entrées, most of the 11.6 percent menu growth was driven by finfish. The top increases in fish entrées were with Chilean sea bass with menu mentions up 28 percent; mahimahi menu penetration up 35 percent; and black cod (sablefish) mentions up 41 percent.
James Wright, senior editor of SeaFood Business, moderated the summit and asked the panel of restaurateurs what the pitfalls are to testing new menu items.
“At the end of the day we have a simple business proposition — we buy food and we sell it. But the quality of hospitality is where the wheels can come off,” said Peter Gibbons, VP-product development with Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen.
Jim Ulcickas, co-founder and proprietor of Bluewater Grill Seafood Restaurants in California and Arizona, said his challenge is getting customers to move from more expensive menu items such as halibut to a USD 15 item that will increase a guest’s frequency. “We want frequency, not necessarily high average check,” said Ulcickas.