US diners are ordering less lobster, mahi and tilapia

Fewer United States restaurant diners are choosing to order lobster, crab, tuna, mahi and tilapia, according to recent data from foodservice consulting firm Technomic.

Significantly fewer restaurants are offering mahi because of its strong price and decreased supply throughout 2016 and early 2017, as previously reported by SeafoodSource. Among the top 500 restaurant operators in the U.S., 37 percent fewer operators are offering mahi now compared to 2014, according to Technomic. 

“Rising prices for mahi are contributing to this shift,” Maia Chang, senior research analyst, consumer insights, at Technomic, told SeafoodSource. 

Fewer consumers (31 percent) said they are likely to order mahi in restaurants, versus 35 percent in 2014, according to Technomic’s Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report.

Tilapia has also declined in popularity among U.S. diners. Only 45 percent of consumers surveyed said they would order tilapia at a restaurant at least occasionally if offered, down from 55 percent in 2014. 

“Though a common fish variety, tilapia tends to get a bad rap for taste and health,” Chang said.

Tilapia suppliers were also faced with a glut in supply and extremely low prices throughout 2016.

While tuna is the third-most commonly offered fish entrée on menus – after tilapia and salmon –fewer restaurants are offering the deepwater species, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data. In addition, 42 percent of diners said they would order tuna fillets from restaurants at least occasionally if offered, down from 46 percent two years ago.

U.S. diners are also less interested in ordering dishes with lobster and crab. Sixty-two percent of diners said they would order lobster at least occasionally, compared to 68 percent of consumers who said they would order it in 2014, the report said – perhaps correlated to strong U.S. lobster prices throughout 2016.

In addition, “This decline may correlate with….allegations that some restaurant chains have been mislabeling langostino as lobster on menus,” Chang said.

Higher prices for some crab species are likely contributing to declining demand from diners, according to Chang. Fifty-nine percent said they would order crab or crab cakes at least every few months or so if it were served at restaurants, down from 63 percent of consumers in 2014. 

The downward trend in tilapia, mahi and other dishes reflects overall U.S. seafood dining trends. Among the top 500 restaurant operators, 55 percent of restaurants offered a seafood dish on their menus in 2016, versus 57 percent in 2014. 

“The decline is consistent with operators shrinking their menus in general,” Chang said.

While seafood is declining at restaurants, 41 percent of consumers are eating more vegetables now than a year ago, Technomic found. 

“What that will mean is that vegetables will take up a bigger share of the plate,” Chang said.

However, Chang doesn’t believe that Americans’ growing interest in vegan and vegetarian dishes is affecting their consumption of seafood dishes. 

“A small minority of consumers we contacted are vegan or vegetarian. Health concerns are the biggest drivers for people to eat vegetarian/vegan dishes, and health also drives seafood consumption, so I don’t think there’s a trend towards switching seafood dishes for vegetarian/vegan dishes.”


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