High seafood prices dampening sales in the UK

Published on
May 18, 2018

Brits are eating more seafood in restaurants but buying it less in supermarkets, according to a new study by Seafish, the United Kingdom’s seafood authority.

Seafish CEO Marcus Coleman said at a recent conference in London organized by the Shellfish Association of Great Britain that he was optimistic about seafood’s future in the country, despite challenges facing the market.

“Seafood is the way forward, and these are exciting times for the industry, despite ongoing uncertainties caused by Brexit, stagnant consumer demand, strong competition from other protein, and an increasingly competitive global market,” Coleman said.

Coleman outlined the country’s production and consumption figures to the end of 2017, which showed a total U.K. seafood supply value of GBP 4.62 billion (USD 6.24 billion, EUR 5.29 billion), up 1.4 percent year-on-year). This was composed of GBP 706 million (USD 954.1 million, EUR 807.9 million) from landings by U.K. vessels, up 2.4 percent from the previous year; a total value of GBP 725 million (USD 979.8 million, EUR 829.6 million) from aquaculture, down 9.1 percent from 2016; and GBP 3.19 billion (USD 4.31 billion, EUR 3.65 billion) from imports, up four percent from 2016.

Total seafood sales in the U.K. amounted to GBP 9.6 billion (USD 13 billion, EUR 11 billion), up 16.4 percent from 2016. U.K. consumer purchases reached GBP 7.7 billion (USD 10.4 billion, EUR 8.8 billion), up 16.7 percent from 2016. Retail in home eating rose by 5.1 percent to GBP 3.73 billion (USD 5.04 billion), while commercial out-of-home eating accounted for GBP 4 billion (USD 5.41 billion, EUR 4.58 billion) up 30 percent from the prior year. Exports rose by 15.3 percent to a value of GBP 1.89 billion (USD 2.55 billion, EUR 2.16 billion).

Research carried out for Seafish showed that fast food outlets and fish-and-chip shops accounted for 70,000 metric tons (MT) of seafood, with pubs and full service restaurants selling 46,000 MT, travel and leisure outlets selling 18,000 MT, and workplace and education canteens accounting for 16,000 MT of seafood.

“More people [are] eating fish and chips than ever before,” Coleman said.

He explained that while the overall value of seafood sales in 2017 looked good, it was tempered by higher retail prices, which meant that consumers purchased seafood less often, although they appeared to eat seafood out more.

Overall, multiple retail sales were down in volume by 3.2 percent year-on-year to 316,000 MT, but commercial foodservice volumes were up by 15.1 percent to 151,000 MT. 

Looking at the past decade, Coleman found that it had been a tough time for seafood in retail, with sales declining in direct proportion to rising prices. The only sector holding its own during that time was fresh seafood, which rose by 11.8 percent, whereas ambient sales fell by 42 percent, frozen seafood by 24 percent and shellfish by 14 percent.

According to DEFRA figures, purchases of fish for in home consumption have fallen steadily since 2006, when it reached a high of 170 grams per person per week, to a new low of around 135 grams at the end of 2016.

“Given that the two-a-week message is globally recognized, meaning that a healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish per week, including one of oily fish, the U.K. is falling significantly short of seafood consumption recommendations,” Coleman said. 

In addition to the cost of seafood, Coleman said other issues that need to be addressed are the age-old British consumer preference for the so-called “Big Five” species – cod, tuna, salmon, haddock, and prawns – and the average age of people buying seafood rising.

“Consumers are comfortable with their favorite species and sales are increasing, but there is so much more they could eat,” he said. “And thank goodness for older people, because they eat 2.5 times as much seafood as younger people and families. And when it comes to shellfish, older people eat three times as much.” 

Population forecasts show that the percentage of people over 65 living in the United Kingdom will rise from its current level of 18 percent to over 22 percent by 2030. But it is not a given that the newly aging population will be such enthusiastic seafood eaters, unless their habits can be changed in the near future, Coleman said.

Seafish undertakes a number of campaigns and trade activity to educate and entice consumers to eat seafood, which are in line with Seafood 2040, the organization strategic framework for expanding the country's seafood industry. The plan identifies actions to help the industry grow to provide two servings of fish per person per week, while ensuring sustainability of supply in the wild-caught and aquaculture sectors.

Seafish’s major marketing and promotional efforts include “Fish is the Dish,” an online and media campaign with recipes and advice aimed at encouraging consumers to eat more seafood, an annual contest ranking the best fish-and-chip shops in the country, and Seafood Week, which has gained increased participants from retail and foodservice each year it has taken place.

“Last year, our Seafood Week included a ‘fish pun day’, and my personal favorite, “silence of the clams” with appropriate illustration, helped us to reach more than 29 million people,” Coleman said. 

During his speech, Coleman announced Seafish will be launching a new concept, “Shellfish Week,” in March 2019. He said he hopes the event will build on the success of Seafood Week and help to increase awareness of the diverse range of shellfish available in the U.K., In discussing the event, Coleman asked for partners in industry to get involved. 

“We offer an excellent platform for you to promote your shellfish, and the more ideas you come up with, the better we can make it,” he said.

Coleman also unveiled a new look for the organization’s annual U.K. Seafood Summit in October 2018. Formerly known as the Humber Seafood Summit, this year’s event takes the theme, “Seafood is the way forward.”

This year’s summit will feature a panel of international speakers who will look at how Brexit might change the political, economic, and regulatory landscape, as well as how the seafood industry can address consumer concerns. Other speakers will discuss industry innovations, tackle the question of how foodservice can feed the nation, and examine long-term developments in the sustainable seafood supply chain.

Photo courtesy of Seafish

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