Retail seafood sales soar, but fresh seafood counters closing across US

Sales of shelf-stable, fresh, and frozen seafood are all soaring in United States supermarket chains in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the U.S. restaurant industry suffers unprecedented losses due to closures and reduced traffic at eateries across the country, retailers have benefited from consumers making panicked purchases over concerns that their access to groceries may be limited by travel limitations imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Suppliers of shelf-stable canned and pouched seafood sales have been one of the biggest benefactors of the shift in purchasing. Overall shelf-stable canned seafood sales jumped 10 percent to nearly USD 5.1 billion (EUR 4.7 billion) for the week ending on 7 March, compared to the same week in 2019, according to Nielsen data provided to SeafoodSource.

Shelf-stable seafood sales were also up 5.7 percent for the four weeks ending on 7 March, to around USD 19 billion (EUR 18 billion).

Among the biggest gainers in canned and pouched seafood sales is canned anchovies and sardines, up 35.6 percent for the week ending on 7 March; canned mackerel, up 33.5 percent; salmon, up 30.8 percent; and tuna, up 32.7 percent.

Frozen and fresh seafood sales are also booming. Fresh fish sales rose 4.3 percent to USD 124 million (EUR 116 million) for the week ending on 7 March, and ramped up 10.4 percent for the four weeks ending on 7 March to around USD 478 million (EUR 447 million), Nielsen said.

Sales of fresh mahi far outpaced all others, rising 62.5 percent for the week ending on 7 March compared to the same week in 2019. Crawfish, flounder, salmon, and scallop sales also realized healthy gains for the week.

Frozen seafood spiked 3.5 percent to around USD 1.1 billion (EUR 1 billion) for the week ending on 7 March and rose 4.9 percent for the month ending on 7 March.

The average American consumer has spent USD 178.44 (EUR 167) on supplies to prepare for the coronavirus, ranging from food and alcohol to medication and cleaning products, according to online loan firm Lending Tree.

“The most popular pandemic purchases among those who stockpiled are cleaning products, food, and paper products such as toilet paper,” the company said in a press release.

To keep up with ramped-up run-through on products, U.S. supermarkets are shifting employees away from their seafood counters to help with stocking shelves.

Kroger Spokeswoman Erin Rolfes said the Cincinnati, Ohio-based grocery chain is closing all its meat and seafood counters, as well as its salad bars.

"It's not due to concerns about spreading disease... it is all just to reallocate resources to make sure the shelves are stocked,” the Hamilton (Ohio) Journal-News reported.

Seafood, steak, and lunch meat will be sliced and packaged overnight and placed in coolers for customers to grab and go, Rolfes said.

United Kingdom-based Sainsbury’s made a similar move earlier this week. It will cease operating all of its in-store fish counters so staff can be redeployed to keep its shelves stocked.

And to meet skyrocketing demand for groceries of all types, U.S. grocery chains and online providers are launching major hiring sprees.

Amazon is opening 100,000 new full and part-time positions across the U.S. in its fulfillment centers and delivery network to meet the surge in demand from people relying on its service “during this stressful time, particularly those most vulnerable to being out in public,” the company said in a press release.

“We also know many people have been economically impacted as jobs in areas like hospitality, restaurants, and travel are lost or furloughed as part of this crisis,” Amazon said. “We want those people to know we welcome them on our teams until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back.”

Amazon is also investing more than USD 350 million (EUR 327 million) globally to increase hourly pay in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and in many countries in the European Union.

Kroger has hired 2,000 individuals in the past week and has 10,000 open positions across plants, warehouses, and stores, CNBC reported. The chain has around 460,000 employees. 

The Safeway-Albertsons Seattle Division said it had 400 immediate openings throughout Central Washington stores, and is hiring more than 1,000 people in Colorado.

Photo courtesy of BrittanyNY/Shutterstock


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