King Oscar's canned seafood experiencing a revival thanks to unlikely source

Published on
November 7, 2017

A technology that has spurred massive global innovation has been the unlikely source of a revival in sales of canned seafood.

Canned seafood sales are trending higher thanks to online sales, according to John Engle, president of canned seafood supplier King Oscar USA.

King Oscar, which has been in continuous operation since 1902, never lost faith in canned seafood products. Canned sardines have always made up the company’s core product line, but over the decades, King Oscar expanded into other products, including canned mackerel fillets, kipper snacks, and anchovies.  

The company, which was bought by Thai Union in 2014, saw the internet as an opportunity, not a threat, to its traditional business, Engle told SeafoodSource. Amazon, along with other e-commerce sites, are fueling consumers’ interest in canned seafood. In fact, King Oscar sported four of the top-five selling sardine products on Amazon during a recent week.

“Amazon.com and e-commerce in general is allowing King Oscar to reach a new consumer base that is discovering our products for the first time,” Engle said. 

While King Oscar’s canned seafood items were available online for years, the supplier’s sales quickly soared when it relaunched its core varieties on Amazon last year. Its core products  featured on Amazon – Two Layer Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, One Layer Mediterranean Sardines, One Layer in Cracked Pepper and Two Layer with Jalapeno Peppers – reflect King Oscar’s best-selling varieties in physical grocery stores, club store, drug stores and other outlets in the United States.

Digital marketing within the Amazon ecosystem helped not only to assert those core varieties to the top of the Amazon heap, it also opened up additional opportunities, according to Engle. 

“As we strive to expand our household penetration, consumers that shop online feel very privileged to have immediate access to new varieties and a wide array of flavor propositions,” he said. “That translates to incremental sales.”

King Oscar recently introduced a new Premium Brisling Sardines in Tapatio Hot Sauce, “and that roll-out is leaping forward online at an unprecedented pace,” according to a statement from the company.

“What’s been most gratifying has been the uptake of our newer and more adventurous offerings. Not every flavor is readily available at retail coast to coast, but our consumer base is mobile, and getting younger,” the company’s statement said. “So, we’re seeing more targeted SKUs such as One Layer in Spring Water Brisling Sardines, Royal Fillets Mackerel in Olive Oil and Skinless and Boneless varieties really taking off.”  

While its “adventurous” new products are adding to its overall sales totals, King Oscar’s best-selling products reflect its core customers’ desire for traditional products they’re familiar with and feel nostalgic toward, Engle said. The King Oscar 2-Layer Brisling Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the top-selling sardine in the United States by volume, contains only brisling sardines, extra virgin olive oil and a touch of salt.

Whether buying a classic offering or a newly introduced product, Engle said King Oscar’s online buyers are seeking out healthy foods. Canned sardines have become more popular in recent years because of their “abundance of health attributes” and simple, natural ingredients, according to Engle. 

The company puts front and center in its marketing the fact that its brisling sardines, exclusive to King Oscar, are sourced from Norway’s fjords and Norwegian coastal waters. They are wild-caught and sustainably sourced under the Norwegian Fisheries Management Council, according to the company.

“More and more consumers understand the growing importance of healthy eating,” Engle said. “The convenience and nutritional aspects of sardines and canned seafood are a perfect fit for an active lifestyle and a healthy diet.”

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