Seafood industry looks to attract protein-hungry millennials

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Protein is powerful stuff.

It fuels muscle growth and promotes a lean, healthy lifestyle, but protein packs perhaps an even bigger punch these days when it comes to attracting modern consumers, according to American Seafoods’ Ron Rogness.

“There’s a health halo that surrounds protein,” Rogness said - and industries of all kinds are taking notice. 

Speaking in Miami, Florida this week during the National Fisheries Institute’s 2018 Global Seafood Market Conference (GSMC), Rogness highlighted the advantages available to the seafood industry as consumer demand for lean protein accumulates, especially among key generational demographics including millennials. 

“According to Mintel research, 63 percent of consumers were interested in protein in terms of a food item that they considered to be healthy,” Rogness said. “And according to Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute, mainstream consumers…are identifying and equating protein with a healthy and active lifestyle.”

Elevated protein consumption isn’t just for body builders and the uber fit,  – the U.S. has entered a health-conscious age where the powers of protein are coveted across the entire U.S. population, Rogness said.

“Protein consumption has been going up for a long time – up over 20 percent for this period [1970 to 2010],” Rogness explained. This trend is expected to hold strong as millennials head deeper into their market potential, he added. 

“[Segments] of millennials are just coming into the real high income category and are really starting their families, and are going to be the number one target market for people who are selling proteins,” Rogness said.

Consumer research conducted by American Seafoods in November 2017 found that 41 percent of millennials increased protein consumption last year, and will again next year. Of the protein seekers surveyed by the company, 46 percent were millennials, 31 percent belonged to Generation X, and 26 percent were baby boomers. 

Boomers and millennials differed in their reasons for consuming more protein, Rogness revealed, with boomers doing it predominantly in an attempt to try to be healthier (76 percent), while millennials eating more protein to recover after exercise (48 percent); for good hair, skin, and/ or nails (48 percent); and to feel fuller longer (49 percent), alongside trying to be healthier (53 percent). 

American Seafoods’ research also discovered that many more millennials than boomers have been gravitating towards non-traditional sources of protein, and that the net growth in consumption in the past year favors these non-traditional sources. Protein industries, even those beyond meat, have been crafting their messages with these trends in mind. 

“When the milk people, the National Dairy Promotions Council, were looking at what was going to resonate with consumers after the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign – and they were focusing on young people, teenagers and young adults – they threw everything up against the wall,” Rogness recalled. “The resounding winner for them in the promotion of their items was eight grams of protein per glass of milk.”

It’s clear that Americans are eating more protein, which is good news for seafood, Rogness said. However, the number of the competitors in the protein space is growing. Dairy, soy, and nuts and seeds have gained in this realm of protein intake from the 1970s to 2010 at the expense of red meat, according to USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion data. And millennials are viewing non-traditional protein sources as “excellent” sources of protein, said Rogness, adding that he believes it's a preference that won’t fade fast.

Rogness and the American Seafoods team did find that consumers like to eat seafood mostly because they consider it a high-quality protein (67 percent). The industry can take advantage of this desire among major consumer demographics to eat healthier, high-quality proteins by crafting a message that highlights seafood as “the most efficient deliverer of protein in terms of calories of all meat proteins,” Rogness said. Seafood offers less calories than non-traditional protein sources, and is also lower in fat than both other meat and non-traditional proteins, according to research from Nutritiondata.self.com. Showcasing these comparisons to health-conscious consumers could go a long way toward increasing seafood sales, Rogness concluded.

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