Fresh reigns supreme in France

For the first time since 2005, French households are buying fewer frozen seafood products. In terms of volume and value, sales of frozen seafood products dropped nearly 3 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to market research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

And thanks to increased availability of imported salmon and cod, purchases of fresh whole fish and fillets rose 3.1 percent and 4 percent, respectively, last year. The growth in sales marched in parallel to a downturn in prices: Whole fish prices fell 3.3 percent and fillets slipped 0.8 percent.

As the French penchant for fresh seafood grows, so does the popularity of supermarkets. According to Kantar Worldpanel, supermarkets and discount retailers continue to carve away market share from independent retailers and fishmongers.

Overall, supermarkets saw their share of total fresh fish sales rise from 70.6 percent in 2008 to 72.5 percent in 2009. By contrast, independent retailers now weigh in with a 14.5 percent slice of the market, and fishmongers with 8.5 percent, a drop of 1.2 points.

Last year was decidedly the year of the cod, with French shoppers boosting their purchases as prices tumbled. Household spending on fresh cod, according to Kantar Worldpanel, increased a striking 48 percent, in step with an 11 percent drop in the average price.

Overall, whitefish proved resilient, despite the economic downturn. Purchases of hake and whiting rose 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively, again accompanied by a fall in price.
However, salmon remains the most popular finfish species in France. Despite a 2 percent price increase last year, salmon enjoyed 9 percent rise in household sales.

But a handful of fish species failed to capture the French palate: Purchases of Nile perch, tilapia and rouget barbet plummeted by 41 percent, 69 percent and 26 percent, respectively. And following a “dynamic” year in 2008, purchases of fresh crustaceans stagnated last year, despite a 0.9 percent drop in price, according to Kantar Worldpanel. The bright spots were raw prawns and langoustines, which both pulled in stronger sales.
The French penchant for scallops continues to climb. In 2009, purchases of shelled scallops, mostly imported, rose a massive 61 percent, which led to a 6 percent increase in the average price. Oysters and snails also recorded a sales boost, contrary to mussels, which saw the market retract.

And while the economic downturn hurt the market for prepared foods in general, Kantar said that ready-to-eat seafood products remained resilient, with purchases rising 4.5 percent. Cooked prawns, smoked fish and surimi all fed into the segment and supported its buoyancy.

However, a clear sign that French shoppers are tightening the purse strings, volume sales of tinned fish actually rose for the first time since 2005, by 2 percent in 2009. Sardines enjoyed an 11 percent rise, and mackerel a 4 percent jump.

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