Seafood hit hardest by UK foodservice closures in COVID lockdown, report says

Up until the coronavirus lockdown, the United Kingdom's foodservice industry was showing tentative signs of growth, with seafood performing particularly well. However, the restrictions imposed on 20 March, 2020, which forced the country’s restaurants and pubs to close, resulted in a dramatic decline in the trade, finds new analysis published by trade body Seafish. 

The “COVID-19 Seafood in Foodservice” report, compiled by Seafish’s Market Insight Analyst Suzi Pegg-Darlison, states that foodservice “suffered unprecedented decline seemingly overnight,” as the number of buyers and the frequency of out of home (OOH) food purchases decreased by over half. In April 2019, total purchases OOH were worth GBP 1 billion (USD 1.3 billion, EUR 1.1 billion). However, visits declined in April 2020 by 81 percent, and the total of foodservice purchases made in the U.K. was worth just GBP 200 million (USD 257.6 million, EUR 219.8 million).

According to the study, seafood in foodservice declined faster than total OOH, as buyers and frequency of restaurant visits decreased by 57 percent in March and April. Visits for seafood outside the home declined by 83 percent in April 2020. However, the study adds that the importance of fish and chips doubled as a proportion of seafood visits.

Although seafood visit declines were experienced in fish and chip shops (down 33 percent), they fared better than other channels, which resulted in them making up a large percentage of total seafood purchases. Travel and leisure was the worst hit foodservice segment, falling 72 percent in March and April 2020, it said.

Food deliveries have been key for the foodservice and restaurant trade during lockdown, and accounted for 40 percent of all OOH visits in April. That month, there was a total 9.3 million delivery visits, with sales totaling GBP 83 million (USD 106.9 million, EUR 91.2 million).

Switching from other foodservice or restaurant occasions to delivery boosted the delivery market by 2 million new buyers, and a 25 percent increase in buyer spend as people were spending much more on delivery than pre-lockdown.

For seafood sales, deliveries accounted for 35 percent of total seafood visits OOH in April.

While U.K. foodservice is now in a phased reopening, with an increasing number of businesses reporting trade upturns, the report also asserts that one-third of Brits believe their finances will get worse in the next six months.

“The biggest challenge as the U.K. enters recovery and an eventual ‘new norm’ is recession. Although predictions are impossible to make, we could see similar behaviors to those in the 2008-2010 recession, as many consumers are concerned about their finances. There are many potential shapes to recovery, but slow long-term growth is likely,” it states. “As consumers believe their finances will become worse over the next few months ‘meal deals’ could become an opportunity for operators selling seafood OOH.”

Photo courtesy of Uyanik/Shutterstock


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