Poke, grilled fish two hot trends for restaurants

American consumers are getting the message that seafood is one of the healthiest proteins they can consume. And they want their healthy seafood served quickly.

As a result, more fast casual and quick-serve restaurants are adding seafood dishes to their menus and poke restaurants are springing up across the U.S.

The number of fish dishes increased four percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 in limited service restaurants (which include fast casual and fast food) versus the previous year, according to research firm Mintel’s Menu Insights data.

And restaurant-goers are looking for leaner, healthier seafood dishes. Fried seafood dishes still dominate LSR menus, but have fallen 9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 compared to the fourth quarter of 2015. During the same time period, grilled seafood items jumped 33 percent on menus, and restaurant chains added more fish tacos, wraps and bowls.

Instead of featuring its many fried offerings, Captain D’s added a new flavor of its grilled tilapia entrée and promoted its other “From the Grill” options during Lent.

And Rubio’s Costal Grill, which operates nearly 200 restaurants, added “smoky Oaxacan shrimp” two taco plate and burrito to its selection of sustainable grilled seafood items for a limited time earlier this year.

In fact, Rubio’s co-founder Ralph Rubio attributes the company’s fast sales growth in recent years in part to customers choosing more grilled seafood options.

“The increased interest in grilled seafood options can be attributed to consumers' shift towards more conscious and healthy eating. Our guests are increasingly looking for delicious ways to incorporate more seafood into their diets,” Rubio said.

Rubio’s will be adding Alaska coho salmon to its menus this summer.

Other seafood items seeing an uptick on restaurant menus include poke dishes and ono, which has grown on LSR menus by 64 percent over the past year.

Fast casual restaurants specializing in poke, a Hawaiian staple dish of rice topped with raw fish and fruits or vegetables, have sprung up across the U.S. New poke restaurants include Wisefish Poke in New York, N.Y., Fins Poke Fusion in Mission Viejo, Calif. and Aloha Poke Company in Chicago.

“It’s a good business,” said Drew Crane, owner of Wisefish Poke. “It is something new and healthy, and plays into trends including people wanting quality foods.” The restaurant sources its sustainable seafood from Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. and Wild Fish Direct.

Crane, a former finance executive, decided to open the restaurant company not long after a trip to Hawaii in 2012.

“I have no doubt it has (staying power),” he said. “I’ve been eating it almost every week since I found out about it, and we get guests who eat here multiple times a week."

Mintel also expects Sweetfin Poke in Santa Monica, Calif., to grow.

“This is a chain to watch as it recently secured capital funding and is slated to open new units,” according to Mintel’s Fast Casual Report, U.S. 2016.


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