Increasingly complex retail and foodservice marketplace opens opportunities for seafood

Amidst stagnant U.S. per capita consumption of seafood stretching back more than 20 years, seafood companies searching for a way to boost sales got some tips from two specialists in retail and foodservice trends. 

Speaking at the 2018 Global Seafood Marketing Conference in Miami, Florida, Mike Seidel of Performance Foodservice and Tim Fires of The NPD Group said the preferences of U.S. consumers were shifting in ways that could favor seafood.

Foodservice and restaurant spending was up more than two percent in 2016, while the number of restaurants and overall traffic to restaurants was down. However, both restaurant dollar sales and average checks size were up nearly two percent in 2016, implying that when people are going out to eat, they are treating themselves to more premium food – a big opportunity for seafood, Seidel and Fires said.

Younger consumers are acting differently than more traditional restaurant-goers, eating out more – an average of five times per week – and eating more adventurously. The seafood industry should seek to take advantage of millennials’ predilection for going out for breakfast and snacks, and trying out growing trends such as sushi, quick-service restaurants, restaurants inside grocery stores, and meal-kits. Young people are also more concerned than older diners about nutrition and sustainability – both areas where seafood can win out over other proteins, Fires and Seidel said.

In regard to retailers, seafood ranked as the top-growth center-of-plate option, beating out chicken, pork, ground beef, and turkey, up 3.4 percent in total volume and seven percent in value in the 12 months ending September 2017. Overall, fish and shellfish split the volume nearly down the middle, with broadline distribution totaling 478 million pounds for fish and 470 million pounds for shellfish, according to NPD data. Distribution of seafood was up almost everywhere in the United States, with the Plains States being the sole exception.

Amongst so-called “street business” – independent restaurant operators with fewer than 20 locations – the total volume and value of seafood sold was up even more, up five percent and seven percent, respectively. Quick-service restaurants saw an especially noticeable jump in seafood purchasing, signaling an opportunity for seafood to make gains, Seidel and Fires said, pointing to restaurant chains such as Libby Hill Seafood, Slapfish, Drago’s, Boston Lobster Feast, Brown Bag Seafood, and Black Salt as examples of seafood-focused quick-service eateries doing exceptionally well.

More niche species of seafood seem to have the greatest opportunities in the quick-service category, Fires and Seidel reported.  Crayfish and octopus notched exceptional performances in the year through September 2017, logging 10 and 16 percent growth in sales to “street businesses,” while oysters also saw a 10 percent increase in the total amount of volume sold in this category.


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