Tis the season for low-cost luxury seafood

Published on
December 3, 2015

The United States may already be a turkey dinner ahead of the rest of the world, but for many of us, now is about the time of year that we decide upon the all important Christmas poultry: do we opt for traditional fare, or go for something a little different; which leads to the next major determination – which of our nearest and dearest do we ask along to share this chosen bounty?

Looking past the obligatory bird (and guest) selection process, though, the festive season always brings plenty of scope for retailers to boost their seafood sales. And increasingly, it’s a case of the more indulgent, the better.

Luxury seafood sales spike in December. In the U.K. market, this surge is historically led by smoked salmon, but a number of other products have been launched to catch the consumer’s eye this year – some through almost-to-good-to-be-true deals. Although in truth, most are actually the combined result of good supplies from overseas and a strong pound, not to mention the ongoing supermarket price war in the United Kingdom’s and a prolonged period of food deflation.

Discount retailer Lidl kicked off this year’s festive battle with the announcement that it is selling whole Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified lobsters – sourced from New Brunswick, Canada – for the knockdown price of GBP 4.99 (EUR 7.08; USD 7.54) each. The launch also saw Lidl become the first U.K. supermarket to sell MSC assured whole lobster. Last year, it was selling uncertified lobsters for GBP 5.99 (EUR 8.50; USD 9.05).

Not to be outdone, Aldi is offering its customers rock lobster tails at GBP 9.99 (EUR 14.18; USD 15.09) and also plans to sell whole lobsters four days before Christmas.

Offering middle class shoppers low-cost luxury foods is a strategy that has paid off for these German discounters. According to the latest figures from Kantar Worldpanel, they have grown their combined share of the U.K. grocery market by 1.5 percent in the past year to 10 percent.

Following hot on their heels, though, is Tesco which is also selling MSC-certified Canadian lobsters – for GBP 6 (EUR 8.51; USD 9.07), although the country’s biggest retailer has been swift to point out that at 400g, its offering is larger than Lidl’s (350g).

Frozen retail chain Iceland has also got in on the Canadian lobster act by launching 350g whole cooked lobsters and 220g of uncooked lobster tails at GBP 4.99 and GBP 9.99, respectively.

While imported lobster appears to be this year’s weapon of choice, and total imports of the crustaceans in 2015 are certain to exceed the 2,600 metric tons (MT) that the market sourced last year, grocers have high hopes for many other seemingly lavish products. For example, Iceland’s new seasonal range also includes New Zealand mussels and Rockefeller oysters. And this week, The Co-op will begin selling 50g jars of Elsinore-branded black lumpfish caviar, sourced from Scandinavia, for just GBP 0.99 (EUR 1.41; USD 1.50) – this is the first time this high street retailer has sold the delicacy and similar products retail elsewhere at more than three times that price.

Due to the fierce competition in U.K. grocery retail, it’s likely there will be plenty more bargain deals to be had in the seafood category over the next few weeks, which is good news for consumers; but much less so for the supermarkets and their suppliers.

Just don’t forget to invite grandma.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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