Online seafood retailers cashing in with premium products

Published on
December 20, 2016

Online seafood orders in the United States this holiday season are booming, thanks to innovative e-commerce sites getting creative with their premium offerings.

While data for United States online seafood sales are not available, overall online grocery sales are predicted to increase 157 percent in 2016, accounting for a signficant 6 percent of total grocery sales, according to Morgan Stanley.

Consumers are growing more confident in ordering fresh and frozen food online, according to three companies with fast-growing online sales totals. Most of their sales are coming in the premium category, with customers seeking out products that are unique or special, and not afraid to pay top dollar for it.

One example is Chicago-based LobsterGram.com, whose customers are willing to pay a premium for high quality lobster and presentation.

“Our demographic is different from some of the other vendors out there – it is much more upscale. It is really that experience of getting fantastic packaging and excellent customer service,” said LobsterGram’s e-commerce manager, Betsy Petrovic. “We have a very strong repeat buying percentage.”

LobsterGram’s lobster meals and gift card sales have been strong this holiday season, helped by the veteran direct-to-consumer lobster company’s early-season move to lock in its lobster prices for the year, which has helped it avoid a recent upswing in wholesale prices. LobsterGram’s has also seen success with its “Create-a-Gram” gift cards, which allow recipients to choose their appetizers, entrees and desserts without knowing the amount of each item.

“Once they receive a gift card, they can use both a coupon and a gift card. We will see a lot of redemption between Christmas and New Year’s – as well as after New Year’s,” said Christine Lopez, operations manager for LobsterGram.

Seaforth Fish Co. in Huntington Beach, California, is another seafood e-commerce success story. A new online-only seafood company, Seaforth, which sells products caught by small-scale Alaskan fishermen, said it is receiving a growing number of orders from across the U.S.

“We work directly with Alaskan fishermen who catch and process fish on their own. I sell locally to southern California and ship as well,” owner Stephanie Devine said.

The company’s orders doubled from August through November this year. Seaforth’s 5-pound Alaskan wild sockeye salmon box, flash-frozen salmon from Bristol Bay, retails for USD 129.99 (EUR 124.45), while its 5-pound wild Alaska halibut box retails for USD 199.99 (EUR 191.43). The halibut is line-caught in the waters of Southeast Alaska.
Devine said she charges more for online orders, but only because the costs for shipping and handling are greater.

“I have to charge more for the internet orders. You can do Fed Ex Ground with dry ice, but that’s the lowest I can go and have it stay frozen,” Devine said.

At Santa Rosa, California-based Siren Fish Co., sales of its signature Dungeness crab cioppino meal-kit are roaring. The kits, which sell for USD 129.99 (EUR 124.45) with free shipping, include two cooked Dungeness crabs, one pound of rock cod fillets, one pound of live mussels, one pound of live clams and a cioppino recipe. The kit feeds four to six people.

Siren Fish is a community supported fishery (CSF), and it also operates an online store. As a member of Localcatch.org, the company features California seafood as much as possible, but last holiday season, that goal hit a roadblock after the California Dungeness season was nearly canceled due to a domoic acid outbreak. Though the company got creative and offered crab-free cioppino kits and Oregon Dungeness crab cioppino kits, Siren Fish Founder Anna Larsen said there’ no replacing California Dungeness crab, at least in the minds of her customers.

“This is a just a better year. Having crab that people feel comfortable eating makes a difference,” Larsen said.

Smoked salmon and other smoked fish are also selling well at Siren Fish, since they “are good host gifts to bring to a party,” Larsen said. “We smoke and freeze them, so you can take out of your freezer the night before. It’s a good thing to have on hand for the holidays.”

The smoked fish, custom-smoked by Angelo’s Meats in Petaluma, California, retails for USD 21.99 (EUR 21.10) per 8-ounce package of smoked salmon, USD 17.99 (EUR 17.22) for 8-ounce smoked albacore and USD 21.99 (EUR EUR 21.10) for 8-ounce smoked black cod.

Contributing Editor

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