These seafood items are growing fastest in fresh US retail

Published on
July 29, 2015

Shrimp, salmon, tuna and prepared seafood items have been popular among U.S. grocery shoppers for years, but in the fresh market they have realized more significant growth in the first half of this year than usual.

Shrimp sales alone reached nearly USD 2 billion (EUR 1.8 billion) for the 52 weeks ending 30 May 2015, according to Nielsen Perishables Group, while prepared seafood sales reached USD 1 billion (EUR 905.6 million).

The fastest-growing fresh items were tuna, which climbed 11.5 percent for the year to around USD 64 million (EUR 57.6 million); salmon, which soared 11 percent to USD 1 billion; raw seafood, which rose 9.4 percent to around USD 1 billion; crab, which rose 9.1 percent to USD 375 million (EUR 337.8 million); cod/scrod, which increased 9.1 percent to USD 198 million (EUR 178.4 million); and crawfish, which rose 8.4 percent to nearly USD 30 million (EUR 27 million). Clams, mussels, flounder and cooked seafood items also realized gains for the 52 weeks ending 30 May.

Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets, owned by Albertson’s, has experienced significant growth in prepared seafood items, shrimp and crawfish this year. “We are really having success with the value-added items,” said Scott Nettles, senior director of perishables for United. For example, United began carrying a line of four fresh Hawaiian poke dishes that its seafood counter staff serve up for customers at USD 12.99 (EUR 11.70) a pound.

“I was shocked that it has done so well. It is now between 1.5 and 2 percent of our fresh seafood business,” Nettles said. “We knew it would be hard to get people to try raw tuna, so we have had to aggressively demo it.”

Other prepared items selling well in United’s 37 stores include crusted fish fillets, sushi and salmon jerky. “We contract with an outside company that makes our sushi and that business is growing tremendously,” Nettles said.

Likewise, Green Zebra Grocery, which has one store in Portland, Ore., does very well with its house-made crab cakes, shrimp cakes, smoked salmon dip and other prepared items, according to Mike Brandt, meat and seafood director for Green Zebra. Especially popular is its fish taco mix, which includes a white fish, cut into strips, along with vegetables and a marinade that customers can stir-fry at home. Typically priced at USD 7.99 (EUR 7.20) a pound, Green Zebra features the taco mix for USD 6.99 (EUR 6.30) a pound every Tuesday as part of its “Taco Tuesday” promotion.

Wild salmon has also been popular this summer in U.S. supermarkets, thanks to plentiful supplies from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. For example, Greensboro, N.C.-based The Fresh Market ran a “Wild Salmon Fest” from 27 May through 24 June, featuring king salmon for USD 19.99 (EUR 18.01) a pound and sockeye salmon at USD 19.99 a pound later in the promotion.

“We have had fresh king or Sockeye on ad all month to promote the new season and build some excitement around an exciting time in fresh seafood. We will run wild salmon as often as we can, as long as the quality is great,” said Brian Harbach, seafood category manager for Greensboro, N.C.-based The Fresh Market.

Green Zebra recently had sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay on special for USD 15.99 (EUR 14.40) a pound, and has been doing well with troll-caught Chinook salmon from Oregon and pink salmon from Washington. The Oregon albacore tuna season is also starting up and the store is featuring fresh, skinless loins for USD 15.99 a pound.

U.S. grocery stores are also realizing healthier shrimp sales this year, after prices skyrocketed in the summer and fall of 2014. “As they [shrimp] have dropped back to normal prices, sales have surged and shrimp appears to have had a strong past year,” said Matt Lally, analytics and insights manager for Nielsen Perishables Group.

United’s private label frozen shrimp sales continue to soar, as does its prepared shrimp sales. “We steam shrimp in the store and package it for the guest who just wants something to go,” Nettles said. The retailer’s 8-ounce snack packs with cocktail sauce retail for between USD 6.99 (EUR 6.30) and USD 7.99 (EUR 7.20).

Crawfish was also more popular with shoppers this season because of a much healthier harvest than the 2014 season. “We did have a high demand for crawfish, since the price had come down,” Nettles said.

It has not been all positive news for retail seafood sales this year, however. Sales of snapper dropped 17.4 percent to around USD 3.7 million (EUR 3.3 million), trout sales plummeted 16.7 percent to USD 9.7 million (EUR 8.7 million) and halibut sales fell 10.8 percent to nearly USD 5 million (EUR 4. 5 million) for the first quarter of 2015, according to Nielsen Perishables Group.

“They cut the Alaska halibut quota back quite a bit, and the price has been super high for the last couple of years,” Brandt said. In early March, the retailer brings in a good amount of halibut “because of the excitement,” and then pares back its supply after two or three weeks.

Contributing Editor

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