Grocers spotlight prepared foods to drive seafood sales

Sales of prepared seafood items in U.S. supermarkets continue to grow as retailers innovate with new types of appetizers and meals ready for consumers to cook at home.

In-store dining and take-out of prepared foods from grocers has grown nearly 30 percent overall since 2008, accounting for USD 10 billion (EUR 9 billion) of consumer spending in 2015, according to research firm The NPD Group. Plus, more than 40 percent of the U.S. population purchases prepared foods from grocery stores.

U.S. prepared seafood sales reached USD 327.4 million (EUR 298 million) in the first quarter of 2016, an increase of 0.5 percent compared to 2015, according to Nielsen Perishables Group. While the growth was slight in the first quarter of this year, prepared seafood sales have been growing consistently since 2011, said Sarah Schmansky, director of account services for Nielsen Perishables Group.

“Prepared seafood's growth [can] be attributed in part to growing consumer demand for convenience across the store. Prepared seafood also offers fewer barriers to department entry for consumers that aren't comfortable with preparing raw seafood,” Schmansky said.

One of the many U.S. grocery stores and chains that are creating new types of grab-and-go seafood items is Green Zebra Grocery, which operates two neighborhood grocery stores in Portland, Oregon, and is adding another store this year.

The stores carry a variety of prepared seafood items “to meet customers’ demand,” said Mike Brandt, meat and seafood director for Green Zebra. “Our model is quick and convenient, and [prepared seafood] gives them a meal option. I even tell them to serve the meals to guests and take credit for them.”

Prepared seafood dishes include fish tacos, crab- and shrimp-stuffed dover sole, crab cakes, shrimp cakes, and seafood and vegetable skewers.

“This time of year, we [also] do halibut and tuna kabobs, with vegetables and marinade,” Brandt said.

While there is labor involved in prepping the skewers, Green Zebra can charge the same price per pound as it would for the fillets – saving money on fish when adding vegetables. For example, halibut skewers are priced at USD 15.99 (EUR 14.54) per pound.

Chopped fish for fish tacos is also popular among the chain’s guests. It sells for USD 7.99 (EUR 7.26) per pound except on “taco Tuesdays”, when it is on sale for USD 6.99 (EUR 6.35) per pound.

Skewers and unique marinated fish recipes are also popular at Portland, Oregon-based New Seasons Market, which operates 19 stores in the Pacific Northwest. Items recently on sale at New Seasons Market included marinated ahi tuna skewers for USD 9.99 (EUR 9.08) per pound, peach poblano marinated sockeye salmon fillets for USD 11.99 (EUR 10.90) per pound and grilled salmon with peach habanero salsa for USD 21.99 (EUR 19.98) per pound.

“New Seasons Market does an exceptional job of empowering customer choice with the ability to customize and personalize most ready-to-eat as well as heat-and-eat fresh prepared food. They have a rolling menu that creates a platform for customer discovery,” said Steven Johnson, grocerant guru at Foodservice Solutions, consultants to the foodservice and hospitality industry.

Another grocery chain taking advantage of a hot foodservice trend is Seattle, Washington-based Uwajimaya, a four-store Asian grocery retailer. Each store sells nine or 10 different types of the Hawaiian raw fish salad poke daily, along with other prepared dishes like mussels in sauce.

Uwajimaya has been offering pokes for years, even though the trend is just taking off in the U.S. restaurant industry. Fast casual poke restaurants such as Wisefish Poke in New York, New York and Fins Poke Fusion in Mission Viejo, California, have popped up in the last year or so.


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