Salmon stays hot in otherwise gloomy US grocery consumer report

Americans’ purchasing habits are being further affecting by inflation, leading to them reduce their fresh and frozen seafood purchases.

Prices of frozen seafood, fresh finfish, and shelf-stable seafood were significantly higher in September compared to last year, according to new data from IRI and 210 Analytics, though prices on fresh shellfish actually dropped.

Fresh finfish prices soared 15.8 percent to reach USD 9.63 (EUR 9.82) per unit, while frozen seafood prices rose 10.9 percent to reach USD 10.63 (EUR 10.83) per unit. After experiencing less-significant price hikes in recent months, shelf-stable seafood sales climbed 13.5 percent to reach USD 2.13 (EUR 2.17) per unit.

Partially as a result of inflation, fresh seafood sales declined 7.8 percent in September versus September 2021, while frozen seafood sales declined 3.8 percent, according to 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink. However shelf-stable seafood sales grew 7.8 percent and frozen seafood sales were around USD 29 million (EUR 29.5 million) higher than fresh seafood in September 2022.

“While sales in both areas declined when compared to last year, fresh lost more ground. Only shelf-stable seafood (canned and pouches) increased…though units and volume were down,” Roerink told SeafoodSource.

Fresh finfish sales dropped 0.7 percent in September and, despite lower prices, fresh shellfish sales plunged 16.9 percent. For the 13 weeks ending 2 October, fresh shellfish sales plummeted 16 percent, though fresh finfish sales dropped only 0.4 percent. The largest sales drops in shellfish products were crawfish (down 74 percent), added-value shellfish items (down 47 percent), oysters (down 36 percent), and scallops (down 28.5 percent). Sales of other popular shellfish items also fell, but not as steeply as earlier this year. Crab sales dropped 14.3 percent, shrimp sales declined 17 percent, and lobster sales were down 10 percent for the quarter compared to the same quarter last year.

Tilapia sales also took a hit in September, dropping 23.5 percent by sales value and 42.6 percent by volume, Roerink said, blaming the plunge on “very high inflation.”

The only fresh seafood items that gained ground in September were salmon, rising 5.7 percent, and seafood salads, sales of which increased by 9.4 percent.

“Fresh salmon was the top performer in the third quarter of 2022 as well as in the month of September. Fresh salmon [sales] alone [were] bigger than all of fresh shellfish [sales] combined,” Roerink said. "Salmon grew [value] a little under 6 percent while keeping [volume] steady in what was a very strong month.”

Roerink and other analysts said they expect inflation to continue to impact U.S. consumers’ grocery-buying habits.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index found the cost of food at home surged 13 percent in September versus last September, while fish and seafood prices jumped 8 percent. Similarly, IRI found that per-unit prices across all foods and beverages rose 14.3 percent in September.

The rate of inflation has accelerated every month since 2021, according to Roerink, who is also concerned about Americans’ debt-to-savings ratio.

“In the early pandemic years, consumers’ savings rates were far higher than normal and credit card debt had declined. But come 2022, consumers are yet again subsidizing income with savings and credit cards to the point of seeing a much sharper pullback on volume in order to curb spending. That volume decrease has been much sharper for seafood than other categories,” Roerink said.

Forty-four percent of Americans say their financial situation is a little or a lot worse off than a year ago, according to IRI, although 27 percent said they expected their financial situation to be better a year from now.

Consumers are cutting back on what and how much they buy to manage their grocery spending, Roerink said. The gap between the per-unit and per-volume price for frozen and shelf-stable seafood is widening, which indicates that some items have reduced the pack size to keep the unit size in a favorable range, she said

“But at the same time, baskets still contain items focused on value, convenience, and premiumization, rather than consumers shopping on price alone,” Roerink said. “These patterns are likely to persist as inflationary pressure remains extremely high.”

Photo courtesy of ungvar/Shutterstock


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