GAPP: Positioning pollock as value item could be key post-COVID-19

As the number of nations that have been able to successfully manage the COVID-19 pandemic increases, positioning seafood items like pollock as a value proposition will become increasingly important, according to the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP).

That perspective was shared earlier this month during GAPP’s fitfth webinar in its summer series. The webinar – titled “COVID-19 Consumer Insights: A Look Forward” – was hosted by Bill Romania and Sharon Ripps of R3 Consulting, and addressed the COVID-19 situation and its impact on consumer spending habits.

Romania opened the webinar by speaking about “the new normal,” highlighting data from New Zealand, a country that is far ahead of the United States in terms of a successful reopening and transition into the “new normal.” Romania said once the United States is able to contain COVID-19, American consumers will likely behave in the same way as those from a somewhat demographically similar and now recovered country.

In New Zealand, which has had 20 or fewer active coronavirus cases since April, consumers have become more price-sensitive in their retail behavior.

“Clearly, the vast majority of households have seen their incomes compromised in one way or another,” he said.

Ripps followed up on this with data that shows that in New Zealand, price has become the dominant criteria for almost 75 percent of consumers, and private-label items have seen a sizable increase in sales. Positioning pollock as a value proposition for these customers is vital, she said.  

Not only are consumers less willing to spend money, the places that they are spending money is changing as well. When comparing March 2019 to March 2020, USD 15 billion (EUR 13.12 billion) of U.S. consumer spending on food shifted from foodservice to grocery.

Ripps said she believes the relevant question for pollock producers is how much of that spending will return to food service, and when. Ripps called the reluctance of surveyed consumers to return to restaurants even when lockdown restrictions are lifted part of the “homebody economy.”

This homebody economy is being influenced by consumer concern they will contract COVID-19, given a resurgence in coronavirus cases in the U.S. and the likelihood the virus will remain a threat to the U.S. population for the foreseeable future.

Ripps said consumers are spending more money on foods believed to boost immunity or aid in recovery, which is beneficial for a product with known health benefits like pollock. With health considerations in mind, customers are more likely to choose whitefish over red meat, Ripps said.

In a recent Datassential survey, consumers ranked fish in the top 10 list of foods that they perceived to boost the immune system – the only animal protein listed. Ripps suggested using the health angle is one of the best ways to position pollock in the homebody economy.

“Wild Alaska pollock – it’s lean, it’s healthy, it has great omega-3’s, it’s perfect for what consumers need today,” Ripps said.

Another change that Ripps highlighted was the surge in meal bundles and do-it-yourself meal kits, which help to cut down on meal boredom and the stress of having to cook at home every day. Ripps also pointed out that the types of cuisines that consumers say they miss most – Mexican and Asian – can be made at home with a number of pollock products. The inclusion of pollock in meal kits and videos instructing consumers how to use pollock in potentially intimidating recipes could be a wise choice.

Another resource Alaska pollock producers are fortunate to have, Ripps said, is a transparent supply chain. Before the pandemic, customers tended not to think about supply chain when choosing their proteins. However, since the start of the pandemic, well-publicized issues relating to failures in meat supply chains has made it a topic of interest. Additionally, the percentage of customers who say they believe it’s important that their food is made in the United States rose from 56 percent before the pandemic to 70 percent currently.

On the foodservice side, with some restaurants being forced to close on short notice, pollock could fill a niche thanks to its ability to be frozen with little detriment to the quality or taste of the fish, giving it a long shelf-life. That could be appealing to the restaurant industry, as it would be a protein option that could last through periods of uncertain business, Romania said.

Photo courtesy of LADO/Shutterstock 


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