Trout, monkfish, barramundi headline discussion on potential of emerging and underutilized species

Published on
January 25, 2018

American fishing vessels are catching almost 20 million pounds of monkfish annually. Yet Americans are eating only around 20,000 pounds of it per year. 

Creating new markets and growing existing ones for emerging and underutilized species – like monkfish, croaker, walleye, Pacific rockfish, orange roughy, barramundi, yellowtail, and rainbow trout – was the central topic of a new panel at this year’s Global Seafood Marketing Conference in Miami, Florida. 

New consumer trends, especially amongst millennials, could help in upping the popularity of these “undiscovered species,” the panelists, who included representatives of many aspects of the seafood industry, including wholesale, distribution, import, and retail.

Millennials are more open-minded and adventurous eaters, and are not only willing to try a wider variety of species, but are actively seeking out new and different flavors, the panel agreed. At the same time, more negative trends surrounding millennials and their preferences regarding seafood, including the fact that they are eating less seafood overall and that they seem to have a preference for smaller portion sizes, can work in the favor of underutilized species, given their limited availability in the marketplace, several members of the panel said.

Regionality, cost, and quality were the biggest barriers mentioned by the panel in blocking the progress of these lesser-known species. Walleye, for example, is very popular in the U.S. Midwest, and is available in abundance, according to one Michigan purveyor contacted by the panel, but is hardly eaten outside of that region. Croaker and Pacific rockfish have a similar regional stronghold in the U.S. Southeast, but have had difficulty breaking into the larger U.S. market.

Cost alone might not be as prohibitive of a factor as some believe, according to one panelist, but cost combined with other factors, it can be a barrier.

“The problem at the retail level is that you’ve got 10 seconds over a fresh counter” to make a pitch for a given fish,” the panelist said. “Customers might be willing to pay USD 12 [EUR 9.68] for a piece of fish, but they have absolutely no idea how to cook it and they don’t want to ruin a 12-dollar piece of fish, so they say to themselves, ‘I might as well just buy tilapia.’ Or they’ll just go right to salmon.”

Companies that sell seafood need to get better at reducing that hesitance, whether by putting out signs comparing the taste of an unfamiliar species of fish with a more familiar one (the “tastes like chicken” effect, as a panelist called it), or by offering free samples.

“You have got to get the fish in their mouth,” one panelist insisted. 

Quality, delivered consistently, is another key to the future success of these emerging species – fighting to win the difficult battle for hearts and minds of consumers is pointless without it, the panel concurred.  

“There’s no better way to piss off a customer than to give them something and then take it away,” one said.

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