Seafood retailing "remains in flux" as supply-chain woes hamper sales

Published on
November 16, 2021
Sales of frozen, fresh, and shelf-stable seafood returned to 2020 levels in October, but growth has been hampered by supply-chain issues.

Sales of frozen, fresh, and shelf-stable seafood in the United States returned to 2020 levels in October, but growth has been hampered by supply-chain issues, according to new data and insight provided to SeafoodSource.

“Twenty months into the pandemic, seafood retailing remains in flux,” 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink told SeafoodSource. “Continually changing consumer consumption and buying patterns, high inflation, and severe supply-chain constraints have yet to create a new and lasting balance of supply and demand.”

At the same time, there has been a “tremendous comeback” for frozen seafood over the past few months, Roerink said. Between January and October 2021, frozen seafood sales rose 2.6 percent, according to IRI and 210 Analytics.

But fresh seafood prices rose in October due to inflation and overall sales declined slightly (0.5 percent) to USD 584 million (EUR 515 million), versus October 2020. Over the first 10 months of 2021, Roerink said fresh seafood sales rose 5.1 percent to USD 6.1 billion (EUR 5.4 billion), though unit sales dropped 0.7 percent and volume declined 1.11 percent.

Salmon “near single-handedly” drove fresh seafood success in October, as sales rose 13 percent, Roerink noted.

“The only three areas with sales increases versus October 2020 were fresh salmon, smoked salmon, and trout. Salmon sales were 2.8 times that of [the second-ranked species], crab,” Roerink said.

In the month of October 2021, finfish sales climbed 5.2 percent, but shellfish sales dropped 10.5 percent.

“Shellfish had a tremendous 2020 and thus a much harder path for continued growth in 2021. Additionally, shellfish demand is affected by supply chain issues and high inflation,” Roerink said.

Frozen seafood sales rose 2.6 percent from January to October, but volume and units declined, Roerink said. However, in October, frozen seafood sales soared 8.1 percent versus October 2020, and was up 38.7 percent versus October 2019.

“Frozen seafood was a big driver in the overall strong frozen food performance. Of the frozen protein offerings, seafood was by far the largest with sales of USD 643 million [EUR 567 million] in October 2021,” Roerink said.

Ambient seafood (canned items and pouches) sales have dropped compared to 2020, but still generated USD 2.2 billion (EUR 1.9 billion) between January and October 2021.

“Given the high demand for shelf-stable seafood in 2020, this is down about 13 percent to 14 percent across dollars, units, and volume in the year-on-year look,” Roerink said.

Sales of ambient seafood rose 1.4 percent to USD 243 million (EUR 214 million) in October 2021 versus October 2020, but were up 12.6 percent compared to October 2019.

Shelf-stable salmon had the biggest growth in the sub-category in October, rising 6.6 percent versus October 2020 and 19.9 percent versus 2019.

Canned and pouched tuna is still the powerhouse of the category, with USD 176 million (EUR 155 million) in sales in October. However, sales dropped 1 percent year-over-year, though they were up 10 percent compared to October 2019.

The outlook is bright for retail seafood sales for the remainder of 2021 as consumers continue to realize the value of preparing meals at home and eating healthy seafoodm according to Roerink.

Americans’ meals continued to be home-centric in October, Roerink said.. According to the IRI primary shopper survey, the share of meals prepared at home is back to late spring and early summer levels, at 80.3 percent of total meal occasions.

“While retail inflation is the highest in many decades, the cost for eating out rose even faster,” Roerink noted. “Restaurant inflation typically results in more at-home meal preparation and it is likely we will see an enhanced reaction, as many people were reminded of the potential savings and other benefits of home-cooking in the past year and a half. “

Notably, 22 percent of Americans expect to spend more on Thanksgiving dinner than they did last year, in part because of inflation. More people are planning on celebrating Thanksgiving this year, with 60 percent surveyed saying planning the same level of celebration as they had prior to COVID-19, according to an IRI survey.The average party size is also expected to be bigger this year, at an average of seven to eight people.

For Q4 2021, Roerink said she expects frozen, fresh, and shelf-stable seafood sales to “start to trend further ahead.

"[That's] provided supply-chain woes do not challenge in-stock positions further," she said.

Photo by Christine Blank/Seafoodsource  

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