- Nielsen reports seafood sales increased 3.4% year over year through Feb. 24. Much of that uptick, though, is likely due to the 4.5% increase in average retail price — volume sales are down by 1%. Certain seafoods performed better than others, however, and Nielsen notes volume sales of scallops grew 15% year over year and flounder sales grew 12.3% in that same time period.
- Nearly one in five of U.S. shoppers say they’d like to eat more fish, but consumers are concerned about seafood quality and freshness. Some don’t know how to cook or prepare fish, while others have concerns about whether the seafood is responsibly sourced.
- The Nielsen report suggests retailers can boost seafood sales by providing items that are partially or fully prepared, taking lessons from the items they already sell in the fresh food or deli area. Adding more seafood to meal kits could be another way to boost sales.
The Nielsen report clearly shows U.S. consumers are interested in buying more seafood, and with sales lagging well behind other supermarket staples, fish seems to be a promising area of growth.
Nielsen noted consumers have concerns about freshness, and found customers are paying attention to where their fish comes from. Sales of all seafood that claimed sustainability were up 3%, compared with a 27% jump in sales of seafood with Marine Stewardship Council labeling and a 30% spike for those with Sustainable Fishing labeling, so grocers want to carefully select seafood purveyors.
Supermarkets who hope to sell more fish would do well to educate employees about the flavors of seafood they sell, how to prepare the items and where the seafood comes from. A Future of Fish report found that consumers trust and rely on information from the grocery store almost as much as they do that given from friends or family when it comes to seafood. Consumers want information about the fish they buy, including whether it is wild or farm raised. With reports about illegal fishing practices, fraud and human labor abuses, grocers who have more information about the supply chain of their fish are more likely to capture consumer attention.
Some smaller grocers who sell seafood at premium prices can go the extra mile. Marketplace Foods sells fresh wild-caught and farm-raised seafood with the highest industry standards, emphasizing its Fresh Flight fish and seafood is caught off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts — or from Alaskan waters — and flown directly to Marketplace. The store touts a strong relationship with seafood suppliers and says it only supports companies that work to restore marine and coastal ecosystems. “Our fish is so fresh, it’ll taste like you caught it that morning,” the company’s website says.
Still, when buying fish, a study by researchers at Vancouver Island University and Duke University finds that consumers care more about taste, price and texture, and less about its sustainability, reports Hakai Magazine. The study found the most important factors influencing seafood purchasing decisions are taste, smell, texture, price, whether the fish is farmed or wild, if it’s local, health benefits and risks, and finally, perceived sustainability.
In prepared food, shoppers are venturing beyond familiar favorites like salmon and shrimp — the survey found volume sales of poke spiked 38% year over year, and deli sushi sales were up 11%, as were sales of deli seafood entrees. Today’s consumers demand fresh, healthy and convenient foods, which could explain the growth in poke sales. A cubed raw fish prepared with Japanese flavors or soy, poke is making a splash at many grocery stores. Blue Hill Bay sells its poke bowls at Kroger, Whole Foods, Costco, Wegmans, Winn-Dixie, Jewel-Osco and many smaller markets as well. In addition to prepacked bowls, Whole Foods also gives customers the opportunity to prepare a custom poke bowl, adding their own flavor or fish preferences.
There’s clearly earning potential in selling more fresh fish and seafood, especially if its packaged as a whole or partially-prepared meal. But grocers may want navigate such sales carefully, paying attention to the ways they market fish, and tailoring their messages to best fit customer interests.