US seafood sector looks to spark customer interest with new innovations

Published on
December 27, 2019

There may be no seafood company with more on the line when it comes to innovating new products than High Liner Foods.

The Canadian seafood giant, which has made its name with old-time seafood classics like fish sticks over the course of its 120-year existence, has struggled as of late as customers’ tastes have shifted. Under the leadership of recently-hired president and CEO Rod Hepponstall, the company has changed course, slimmed down its stable of offerings, and loaded its resources into new product development, with a focus on snacks.

“We are collaborating with industry-leading suppliers and other industry partners to ensure that High Liner has on-trend and industry-leading innovations,” Hepponstall said in a recent conference call with investors. “We’re developing and rolling out products for fast-growing, non-traditional areas like snacking, and enhancing packaging to align with changing demographics and to ensure the greatest market appeal and increased frequency of purchase.”

As an example of the types of product innovation High Liner will pursue in the future, Hepponstall pointed to “fish wings,” a reference to the Alaska Wild Wings product High Liner unveiled in June of this year. The company has come out with two other new products it also considers harbingers of a more creative future: Everything Bagel Crusted Cod and Battered Haddie Bites.

“I’m excited about the potential for fish wings, not only because they incorporate a well-established and popular brand and flavor – Frank’s Red Hot Sauce – to support a new type of value-added fish product,” Hepponstall said. “This innovative approach I expect you will see a lot more from High Liner Foods in the future. Using established flavors is an effective way to encourage customers to try something new.”

High Liner isn’t the only seafood firm looking to inspire customers to take a second look in the seafood aisle for new and fun culinary ideas. At the beginning of 2019, East Coast Seafood Group launched a new brand of chef-crafted retail offerings under its Salt & Sky brand. Originally appearing in Giant Eagle and Hannaford locations in the United States, the brand’s initial offerings included Lobster Macaroni Three Cheese Blend, Tuscan Shrimp and Baja Lobster Flatbreads, and Scallops with Wild Mushrooms and Gnocchi.

The Salt & Sky brand, which targets modern consumer interests with its worldly flavor profiles, is a key component of East Coast Seafood Group’s current business development strategy, according to marketing director Christina Ferranti-Clift. Increased demand among consumers for value-added seafood products with “expansive flavor profiles and new consumption opportunities, mirroring shifting attitudes across all food categories,” contributed strongly to Salt & Sky’s branding, Ferranti-Clift said.

A recent study from consumption data group Mintel found that the taste of fresh fish and shellfish is a critical factor for consumers when shopping for seafood, as are the associated health benefits, which is why East Coast Seafood Group’s new brand embraces “globally inspired flavors and ingredient trends,” the company said. Each product within the brand is crafted by chefs, and does not use preservatives or artificial ingredients, Ferranti-Clift added.

East Coast’s work paid off when it won the “Best New Foodservice” Seafood Excellence Award at the 2019 Seafood Expo North America event for its Lobster Macaroni & Cheese Bites, a creamy mixture of macaroni and a blend of Parmesan, asiago, and mozzarella cheeses, within a crunchy golden-brown coating.

The other big winner in the 2019 Seafood Excellence Awards competition was Miami, Florida-based St. James Smokehouse, which took home the “Best New Retail” prize for its Saint Pure Salmon. The Saint Pure Salmon is hand-cured with sea salt and brown sugar, and contains a smoke profile of light fruity notes crafted by smoking with locally-sourced Florida orange and grapefruit wood. The product is free of growth hormones, artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors, and is sliced vertically, sashimi-style, creating bite-sized portions, co-owner Brendan Maher said.

Other innovative seafood snacks that were named finalists in the Seafood Excellence Awards competition included Tai Foong USA’s Alaska Cod Dumplings, Pacific Seafood’s Honey Jalapeno Shrimp, OneForNeptune’s Rockfish Jerky, Cheating Gourmet’s Shrimp Ramen Noodle Bowl, and Acme Smoked Fish Corp.’s Blue Hill Bay Protein Bowl.

Chicken of the Sea also used Seafood Expo North America as a platform for the rollout of its innovative seafood snack product – the Infusions flavored tuna cups line. The single-serving recyclable plastic cups hold 80 grams of shelf-stable tuna and come in four flavors – Lemon & Thyme, Sundried Tomato, Thai Chili, and Basil. And the company has worked hard to minimize the odor typically associated with canned or pouched tuna. Each Infusions cup has 20 to 22 grams of protein, are low in fat, and all are either sugar-free or very low in sugar. Craig Rexroad, Thai Union’s communications director for North America (Thai Union owns Chicken of the Sea), said the line can be found at most major grocery and mass merchandiser chains, including Meijer, Albertsons, Costco, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Publix, Walmart, and Kroger.

“It’s the perfect snack,” Rexroad said.

Photo courtesy of High Liner Foods

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