F&B analysts and retailers agree: Seafood’s holiday outlook is bright

Published on
December 10, 2020

Restaurants, grocery stores, and online seafood suppliers are expected to have one of the brightest holiday sales seasons on record, in part due to the imposition of dining restrictions in several states.

The National Retail Federation forecasts a spike of between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent in sales of all food and non-food items in November and December, compared to a 4 percent increase in 2019.

The NRF predicts that online and other non-store sales will increase between 20 percent and 30 percent to between USD 202.5 billion (EUR 167 billion) and USD 218.4 billion (EUR 180 billion), up from USD 168.7 billion (EUR 139 billion) last year.

“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving, most have the ability to spend,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a press release. “Consumers have experienced a difficult year but will likely spend more than anyone would have expected just a few months ago.”

Premium seafood items, including shrimp and lobster trays for home gatherings, and other value-added seafood items are expected to perform especially well.

“With COVID and everyone celebrating at home this year, we hope to see a little growth in our catering business – at least a 25 percent increase — for the holidays,” Josh Naughton, director of deli, seafood and specialty cheese for Mansfield, Massachusetts-based Roche Bros., which operates 21 grocery stores, told SeafoodSource.

Roche’s cooked wild U.S. shrimp trays are especially popular, and Naughton expects to sell around 1,000 trays the week before Christmas. Other popular trays at Roche Bros. throughout the holiday season include bacon-wrapped scallops and lobster tails and claws.

Roche realized a 25 percent increase in catering sales for the week before Thanksgiving, according to Naughton.

Laura Ramsden, co-owner of New Bedford, Massachusetts-based processor Foley Fish, also expects strong holiday seafood sales – particularly of premium items.

“Especially because of the year we’ve had, people will be looking for seafood at retail to make [holiday meals] special,” Ramsden said. Items like shrimp, lobster, shellfish, salmon, smoked fish, eels, and caviar will sell well, Ramsden predicted.

210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink also expects shoppers to flock to premium seafood items as they entertain in small groups at their homes.

“Fewer people will be eating out at restaurants and may transfer that expenditure to the grocery store to buy something extra nice,” she said.

Value-added items such as bacon-wrapped scallops, shrimp trays, and lobster dips are examples of items that will be popular, Roerink said.

“These items already saw robust growth in the past few years, with a higher focus on protein as well as items with a health halo, and I think they are going to have a very strong 2020 holiday season,” she said.

With large holiday gatherings being discouraged by authorities, retailers are likely to see shifting demand from huge centerpiece proteins to smaller but equally indulgent options, opening an opportunity for premium seafood, Roerink said.

Roerink expects holiday meal solutions from both supermarket delis and restaurants to have a “stellar year, with some people ready to hand off the meal prep to someone else.”

If Thanksgiving is any indication, the expected Christmas sales spike should come to fruition. For the week of 29 November, fresh seafood sales increased 20 percent in U.S. grocery stores compared to the same week last year, according to IRI and 210 Analytics. Seafood realized the highest sales increase of all fresh departments at U.S. grocery stores during the week, Roerink said.

Giving a further boost to seafood, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is encouraging consumers to consider including U.S. farmed seafood in their holiday meals.

“U.S. farmed seafood is a nutritious and sustainable protein. Aquaculture offers Americans access to safe, affordable, and healthy food choices produced with minimal impacts on the environment, including the most efficient form of animal protein production in agriculture,” the USDA said in a press release. “Chilled shrimp cocktail are a great way to start the meal. Additionally, oysters are appealing appetizers on the half-shell or in soup, as they are in their prime during winter.”

The Feast of the Seven Fishes offers another way to used farmed seafood in dishes such as baked fish, pasta with shellfish, seafood stews, and salmon dip, the USDA said.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

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