Whatever else one might say about seafood in supermarkets, it’s certainly prominent. According to the exclusive research undertaken for Progressive Grocer’s annual Retail Seafood Review, 80.4 percent of category executives who responded to PG’s survey have a service seafood department, generating an average of 8.4 percent of total sales.
What’s more, the category is still perceived to be growing by a majority of respondents: 50 percent reported that total seafood sales had increased over the past 12 months, while 38.9 percent noted that sales had at least held steady, and only 11.1 percent saw sales decline. Looking ahead, 63.9 percent predicted that their seafood sales would increase, with 36.1 percent expecting them to remain the same, and no one — 0 percent — anticipating a sales decrease. Execs polled said that they believed sales would rise, on average, by a healthy 4.2 percent.
- The majority of retailers surveyed expect sales growth in the category, with none anticipating a sales decline.
- Health is a key motivator for shoppers to purchase seafood, but taste, convenience, value and sourcing are also important considerations.
- Almost all retailers with a sustainable seafood program in place are actively promoting it as a key point of differentiation.
- The majority of grocers are open to the idea of carrying plant-based alternatives to seafood – and even merchandising it in the seafood section.
Health and More
The nutritional advantages of seafood appear to be driving this uptick, but there are other factors in play as well.
“When asked why they eat seafood, 89 percent [of consumers] say it is because seafood tastes great, and 88 percent say it is because seafood is healthy,” observes Kyle Chamberlin, publications manager at Chicago-based market research company Datassential. “This indicates that nutrition is on nearly all consumers’ minds when they are eating seafood. Interestingly, fewer than half said they eat seafood because they are trying to eat less meat, suggesting that fish and shellfish are not necessarily seen as healthier meat alternatives, but rather as delicious proteins in their own right. When promoting seafood items, operators say ‘healthy’ positioning is far more effective than indulgent or customizable.”
“Seafood is high in protein and is known to have many health benefits,” affirms Jason Pride, VP of meat/seafood at West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee. “Additionally, customers are looking for quick, easy and healthy proteins, and seafood fits the bill. … Items that are already seasoned, breaded or packaged in oven- or grill-ready containers make it easy for customers to prepare the entrées at home. All of these factors contribute to continued sales increases.”
“We believe there has been an upward shift in consumer behavior and overall opinion on eating seafood,” notes Bluzette Carline, director of marketing at Beaver Street Fisheries (BSF), a Jacksonville, Fla.-based provider of wholesale and retail seafood. “Efforts in education and promotion around the benefits of seafood may have some part in the steady increase.”
“The perception that more sustainable farm-raised seafood is dirty or unnatural persists, while wild-caught seafood, which is often regarded as less sustainable, is seen as premium and cleaner,” notes Datassential’s Chamberlin. “Both consumers and operators show a strong preference for wild-caught seafood versus farm-raised.”
He adds that “seafood … either caught locally or in U.S. waters is much more desirable to most consumers than seafood without any sourcing information.” To address the matter of sourcing, one respondent to PG’s survey suggested “a pedigree program, with DNA testing, to prove up country-of-origin labels (COOL) and species of seafood,” as there are “too many mislabeled cheaters out there.”
Interestingly, despite shoppers’ concerns about where their food comes from, Chamberlin goes on to assert, “Sustainability is low on consumers’ priority lists when they are purchasing seafood.