US supermarkets promoting seafood meals as an affordable option
Recognizing that more Americans are preparing meals at home to save money, some U.S. retailers are promoting their seafood meals as an affordable option.
The share of home-prepared meals rose from 78.9 percent in November to 81.5 percent in December, according to IRI’s December Consumer Sentiment survey. Conversely, the share of households that purchased restaurant meals declined from 80 percent in November to 76 percent in December, according to IRI and 210 Analytics.
“Cutting back on restaurant meals in lieu of preparing meals at home is another important cost-saving measure,” 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink told SeafoodSource in December.
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.-based Kroger, which operates more than 2,700 grocery stores, is leaning into the trend of Americans upscaling their home-dining experiences.
"Customers not only learned to cook during the pandemic, they grew to love it. In 2023, cooking at home remains a mainstay with customers gathering together to celebrate time lost and save money as inflation moderates,” Kroger Senior Vice President, Chief Merchant, and Market Officer Stuart Aitken said.
Aitken said seafood remains a staple for many of its shoppers seeking to elevate their at-home dining.
“During the pandemic, customers began engaging more with seafood and the grocer,[and] the trend continues to grow,” he said. “Look for items such as shrimp, sea scallops, and crabcakes to add a special element to a meal and save money instead of eating seafood in a restaurant.”
On 25 January, Kroger began promoting restaurant-style meals such as its Home Chef Grilled Atlantic Salmon with Lemon Garlic Butter, Kroger Savory Garlic Shrimp Scampi, Kroger Beer Battered Shrimp, Private Selection Crab Cakes, and Private Selection Bacon-Wrapped Wild Sea Scallops.
Similarly, Santa Fe Springs, California, U.S.A.-based Gelson’s Markets, which operates 27 locations in Southern California, is expanding its ready-to-cook seafood meals program, which include a seafood item and fresh vegetables.
“They have become a customer favorite in a short period of time and adding variety and options for the customer will help that category continue to grow,” Gelson’s Executive Director of Fresh Operations Sean F. Sáenz told SeafoodSource.
Gelson’s also recently launched a line of gourmet soups – including clam chowder, lobster bisque, and seafood gumbo – in its seafood departments.
“This category is performing extremely well,” Sáenz said.
Sáenz said his company has noticed a “small change” in customer buying patterns due to the economy – for example, more shoppers are purchasing farmed Atlantic salmon versus wild salmon due to the cost difference.
“[But] they are not willing to downgrade the quality or freshness of their purchase; it’s more of a shift in proteins purchased, which allows us to add more value-option varieties,” Sáenz said.
To offer more value for shoppers concerned about inflation, some supermarkets are adding more frozen and shelf-stable seafood options. Despite an increase in the prices of shelf-stable goods in December, sales in that category jumped 8.9 percent, while frozen seafood sales fell 3.8 percent and fresh seafood sales dropped 5.5 percent, according to IRI and 210 Analytics.
And in 2022, fresh seafood sales across retail outlets dropped 8.2 percent to USD 6.5 billion (EUR 6 billion) for the year ending 1 January, according to IRI and 210 Analytics. Frozen seafood sales saw a much smaller decline, falling 2.9 percent to around USD 7.1 billion (EUR 6.6 billion).
In contrast, shelf-stable seafood sales rose 5.6 percent to around US 2.67 billion (EUR 2.5 billion) in 2022.
To offer better value to shoppers, Lakewood, Colorado, U.S.A.-based Natural Grocers has always focused on carrying brand-name and private-label frozen seafood and very little fresh seafood. The chain operates 162 stores in 20 states.
“Buying frozen fish is often cheaper and [it] can be as high quality or higher than some ‘fresh’ fish, a lot of which is previously frozen to begin with,” Natural Grocers Category Manager of Dairy and Meat Leigh Paone told SeafoodSource. “So, if someone is budget-conscious and likes seafood, doing a little bit of homework can go a long way to having quality seafood at home that is also affordable.”
The natural grocery chain also recently began selling private-label Natural Grocers brand cod and shrimp value-added products.
“Value-added products in general are popular because they take some of cooking and prep work out of the equation for shoppers,” Paone said.
Often, shoppers perceive frozen and center-store items to be cheaper than fresh, Roerink said.
“That may or may not be the case in reality, but we often see people shift their dollars regardless,” she said. “These same patterns are seen in seafood over the past year and a half: whereas frozen and fresh were the exact same size in 2020 and early 2021, frozen has leaped ahead. Meanwhile, sales for cans and pouches also remain strong.”
Roerink said she expects to see more shoppers to shift from fresh to frozen seafood this year. "The interesting thing for fresh is that it is often a same-day consumption occasion, especially when bought at the fish counter,” she said. “Frozen provides more flexibility and as gas prices remain elevated, this could very well play into [buying] patterns also.”
Photo courtesy of Kroger