US fresh, frozen seafood sales hold gains through first half of 2021

Fresh seafood for sale in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

U.S. retailers continued to experience strong sales of fresh and frozen seafood in the first half of 2021, 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink said she expects continued strong growth through the rest of the year.

“Yes, people are going out to restaurants and take-out continues to be strong, but they are still buying more fresh and frozen seafood,” Roerink said at the 28 July Seafood in U.S. Retail webinar, sponsored by animal health company Elanco. “There is a lot less concern [about COVID-19], so there are a lot more people coming into the store and spending more time shopping [and] browsing for new ideas and new recipes.”

The changes in behavior are driven by rising U.S. vaccination rates, Roerink said.

Frozen seafood sales spiked 40.3 percent in the first half of 2021 compared to the first half of 2019, reaching USD 3.8 billion (EUR 3.2 billion), according to research firm IRI and 210 Analytics. For the first time, there is higher household penetration of frozen seafood than shelf-stable seafood, according to Roerink. Nearly 73 percent of U.S. households purchased frozen seafood in the first half of this year, up 1.3 percent compared to 2020. Frozen seafood sales’ increase versus the first half of 2020 was 2.5 percent – still impressive since consumers were doing unprecedented pandemic stock-up shopping, particularly of frozen foods, Roerink said.

Fresh seafood sales for the first half of 2021 surged 33.6 percent compared to 2019 and 9.6 percent compared to the first half of 2020, reaching USD 3.7 billion (EUR 3 billion). Fresh finfish sales spiked 17.3 percent versus 2020 and 23 percent versus 2019, while fresh shellfish sales rose 36.7 percent in the first half of 2021 versus 2020 and a significant 48.5 percent versus 2019.

“In fresh shellfish, we are growing both in 2020 and 2019, so that is very exciting to see,” Roerink said.

In the fresh seafood department, there is “no bigger powerhouse than salmon,” Roerink noted. Sales jumped 28 percent in the first half of 2021 versus 2019 and 9.3 percent versus 2020, to reach USD 1.2 billion (EUR 1 billion).

The other big fresh sales leaders for the first half of 2021 include crab, shrimp lobster, cod, catfish, tilapia, scallops, tuna, and smoked salmon. The top five volume leaders in the first half of 2021 were salmon, followed by crab, shrimp, lobster, and catfish.

Roerink said she expects fresh and frozen seafood sales to continue to climb in 2021 for numerous reasons, including the fact that seafood is now a staple of many households and the fact that seafood compares favorably on price versus meat, which has been more expensive lately. Overall, consumers are not as concerned about seafood prices as they used to be, Roerink said.

Suppliers and retailers have the best seafood sales opportunities this year by focusing on e-commerce, holidays, seafood’s health benefits, and transparency.

Seafood e-commerce sales soared in 2020, and frozen seafood sells especially well online, Roerink noted. Salmon and shrimp are great products to highlight online, getting customers “in the door” with seafood and more willing to try other species.

Moving forward, well-being, health, and nutrition are going to continue to be very important to shoppers, Roerink said.

“There is a big opportunity to talk about omega-3s and other benefits [of seafood],” Roerink said.

Roerink’s research found 54 percent of U.S. families will be celebrating the holidays as normal in 2021. Because seafood is seen as a celebratory item, it should be heavily promoted for the holidays, including the upcoming Labor Day break, Roerink said.

“[People] are going to want to make up for missing out on family occasions [during the pandemic],” she said.

Retailers that highlight their transparency messages will also likely be successful. "People want to know where their seafood is coming from,” Roerink said.

Photo courtesy of Tamar Hankton/Shutterstock


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