Trends experts predict modest 2021 rebound for US foodservice

While 2020 has been the hardest year the U.S. restaurant industry has ever faced, some analysts and seafood suppliers expect to see the industry rebound in 2021.

Major foodservice distributor US Foods, for example, is optimistic about a restaurant-sector recovery, as more Americans obtain the COVID-19 vaccine and return to dining out, according to its chairman and CEO, Pietro Satriano.

“It is poised for recovery in the medium- to long-term,” Satriano said at the 2021 ICR Conference.

Satriano pointed to foodservice recovery In Australia, “where fairly significant restrictions were put in place, and they got control over virus.”

“They are pretty much back to 2019 levels,” Satriano said.

There is also significant pent-up demand from American consumers for dining in restaurants.

“From the research we have seen, eating out is one of the activities that consumers miss the most,” Satriano said.

Jon Pearlman, president of Jessup, Maryland, U.S.A.-based distributor Congressonal Seafood, said he expected a bounceback year for foodservice.

“I think restaurants are going to have a huge recovery,” Pearlman told SeafoodSource. “I believe that, once more people are vaccinated, there is going to be more of a push to support your local restaurant independently-owned restaurants especially. We are going to see a major boom.”

Cape May, New Jersey, U.S.A.-based Lund’s Fisheries is also banking on a foodservice turnaround, hiring sales and marketing and business development executives, along with national brokerage firm Waypoint to grow sales of its value-added seafood brands and private label in the sector.

“Everybody’s hope is that, as they start to roll out the vaccine and more people are vaccinated, you will see the foodservice industry start to slowly rebound,” Lund’s President Wayne Reichle told SeafoodSource.

If the U.S. reaches “critical mass” on administering COVID-19 vaccines this summer, dining restrictions could be lessened and more people will be dining out, Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for research at the National Restaurant Association, told SeafoodSource.

While the restaurant industry’s sales will likely increase this year compared to 2020, the magnitude of the growth is “certainly nowhere near enough to put the industry back where it was prior to the pandemic,” Reichle said.

“The restaurant industry is the most impacted industry in terms of employment and sales losses last year,” Reichle said. U.S. restaurant sales plummeted 27 percent in 2020 to around USD 659 billion (EUR 545 billion), according to the NRA.

Foodservice research firm Technomic is also providing a brighter outlook for restaurant performance in 2021.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has steamrolled foodservice, the industry is still gearing up for the beginning of a recovery in 2021. Capacity constraints, service suspensions, and lingering guest hesitation may persist, but ongoing consumer and operator adjustments  along with the expectation for medical advances will result in a positive outlook for the industry,” Technomic said in a press release.

Meanwhile, NRA’s 2021 Trend Report, which will be released in full later this month, shows that seafood items are the second-highest selling item on menus in the full-service sector, which includes fine dining, family dining, and casual dining operators. And in the limited-service segment, seafood is the tenth top-seller.

“In surveys, consumers say they can’t replicate seafood’s taste and texture in their home kitchens,” Reichle said.

At the same time, Americans – especially those in younger demographic groups – are willing to to buy more restaurant-sourced ingredients and prepare them at home, which could also be a boon for seafood suppliers.

Many restaurants are providing raw seafood, meats, and other groceries for consumers to cook at home. And NRA said consumers want to buy more meal kits and meal solutions from restaurants. In addition to meal kits, meal subscriptions will also take off in 2021, NRA predicted.

“Consumers sign up to get meals during the month for pickup or delivery at a discounted price,” the association said.

Diners are seeking more healthy and diet-specific offerings, such as gluten-free options, the NRA noted.

Photo courtesy of the National Restaurant Association


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