North America’s top 20 seafood suppliers

Meet ‘em where they’re at. That’s essentially what some of North America’s largest seafood suppliers are doing — making products simple and easy to prepare for both restaurants operating on slim margins and for frugal retail customers trying to stick to a budget while incorporating more seafood into their diets. Value-added offerings and perceived bargains are driving seafood sales in the slowly recovering economy, suppliers and analysts say, to take advantage of the latest trends in seafood consumption, which has hovered around 16 pounds per capita in the United States for many years.

Value-added products may hold the key to increasing consumption, as they remove a fundamental obstacle when consumers think about seafood — how to cook it. Look up and down SeaFood Business’ 2010 Top 20 North American Seafood Suppliers list — a group that accounted for $10.6 billion in sales last year — and you’ll find the leading producers of casual-dining foodservice and retail seafood products that strive to take the fuss of seafood preparation out of the equation. Trident Seafoods, High Liner Seafoods (and its U.S. subsidiary Fishery Products International of Danvers, Mass.), Beaver Street Fisheries and, of course, the three major shelf-stable seafood brands of StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee — all of those companies are in the top 10.

While sales may be rising for several companies, their increased revenue is partly due to ever-increasing raw material costs. But there is also evidence that the fog of a recession hangover has not yet cleared. Dealing with new baseline prices for the most popular seafood items like shrimp, tuna, salmon and whitefish — all while turning a profit during a tenuous transition from recession to the beginnings of inflation — has been the seafood industry’s greatest challenge as of late.

“On a couple of species, that’s been real tough, particularly on salmon,” says Henry Demone, CEO of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia-based High Liner Foods, which placed No. 7 on this year’s list with $602 million in 2010 sales. “Salmon costs went up a lot. We don’t sell that much farmed salmon; we have a big wild salmon business and we put our retail prices up — not enough when you look at the cost increases but it’s too much for the consumer.”

Sixty percent of High Liner’s sales go to the foodservice segment, but Demone says retailers are aggressively working to close the gap in overall seafood sales both in Canada and the United States (roughly two-thirds of all seafood consumed in the United States is eaten at restaurants). Providing can’t-fail value-added seafood products that save time and effort — like the company’s new line of FireRoasters seafood meals, which the company heavily promoted at this year’s International Boston Seafood Show — is one way to hook consumers when they’re grocery shopping, says Demone.

“Continuity of supply, portion control, traceability, sustainability — you wrap all that around a brand and that’s our value-add,” says Demone.

Click here to read the rest of the story on North America’s top 20 seafood suppliers, which was written by SeaFood Business Associate Editor James Wright and appeared in the magazine’s May issue. The story includes a chart of the top 20 that can be downloaded. 


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