Where frozen seafood is showing signs of retail recovery

Published on
October 6, 2016

Though most U.K. households possess and often use a domestic freezer unit, there has been a growing disconnect between British shoppers and frozen seafood over the past decade. This increasingly frosty relationship is despite the well documented benefits that the frozen channel can bring to the fish consumer – from long shelf-life and convenience, to retaining nutritional content and reducing food waste, not to mention its affordability compared to fresh products.

A new study published by Seafish, incorporating Nielsen ScanTrack data, finds the retail value of frozen seafood sales has remained “fairly flat” over the past 20 years compared with chilled. It states that in the late 1990s, both the volume and value of chilled seafood began to rise faster than that of frozen and ambient seafood, and by 2005, chilled seafood had overtaken frozen seafood in volume sales. Coinciding with periods of recession, there were resurgences for frozen in both 2007 and 2012, but a couple of years into austerity, U.K. shoppers became polarized, saving money where possible on basics, but also prioritizing value for money and the perceived superior freshness, health and quality of chilled seafood. This resulted in growth for the chilled sector, while the frozen and ambient categories fell into decline.

Quantifying this trend, Seafish’s study finds that from 1993 to 2015, frozen seafood experienced price-driven growth, as volume fell by 12 percent and the value increased by 16 percent. In comparison, chilled seafood increased in volume by 38 percent and value by 254 percent during this same period.

Frozen’s waning popularity has been more pronounced over the last eight years – May 2008 to May 2016 – with the volume down by 22 percent and value declining 5 percent, with average product prices rising by more than 22 percent.

For the 12 months ending 21 May 2016, the total volume of frozen seafood sold in the U.K. amounted to 105,622 metric tons (MT), a decrease of 3.3 percent year-on-year, while the total value of these sales fell 0.3 percent to GBP 688.4 million (USD 915.4 million, EUR 815.8 million).

The simple frozen fillets (or shellfish) segment traditionally accounts for the largest share of retail’s frozen seafood segment, with sales of 21,974 MT valued at GBP 208.1 million (USD 275.5 million, EUR 245 million) and an average price of GBP 9.47 (USD 12.54, EUR 11.15) per kg in the aforementioned 12-month period.

It’s this segment, along with frozen dusted – “perceived as a healthier and flavorsome alternative to breaded and battered,” that have shown the only volume and value growth in the last 12 months, according to Seafish.

Though it’s early days, it’s also worth noting that until now, no frozen segment has demostrated both growth trends in the last eight years.

The overriding problem for the frozen category remains a lack of consumer education. Indeed, Seafish warns that “shopper misconceptions” are at the heart of the continued growth of chilled seafood and the decline of frozen seafood, with shoppers and consumers perceiving chilled and frozen seafood very differently.

Chilled seafood is seen as healthier, fresher, better tasting, higher quality and easier to cook than frozen, while shoppers in this segment are generally more engaged and knowledgeable about seafood and surrounding issues such as sustainability, said Seafish.

“In comparison, frozen seafood is seen as a ‘convenient’ cupboard and shopping list staple; while shoppers comment on ‘mushy texture,’ loss of flavor and struggle with the concept of how frozen seafood can still be ‘fresh’ and don’t like not being able to see the product through the packaging,” Seafish noted.

Because Seafish’s research finds that shoppers typically find frozen aisles “dull” and “cold” and want to spend as little time in them as possible, the authority suggests that reorganizing retail fixtures to make it quick and easy for consumers to find the products they want “will pay dividends.”

The authority reckons the key to engaging frozen seafood shoppers is with products that offer ease of cooking, value for money, favorite species and portion sizes as well as preferred flavors or coatings. It further recommends that the future trend for polarization in household size towards single and larger households could be used steer pack size strategy, bearing in mind that frozen buyers are currently biased to larger households.

In short, to capitalize on these early shoots of growth, retailers need to ensure they have just as much variety in the frozen aisle as they have in the chilled cabinet if they are going to genuinely shake up the frozen category.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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