The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute provides recipes like this hot pollock sandwich to stimulate interest in various fish species.
Despite an inflationary landscape and a return to restaurant dining in the waning days of the pandemic, the seafood category is well positioned for the future.
“The past year was a precarious year for various proteins, as consumers adjusted their purchasing habits to combat inflation,” notes Amy Dukes, head of retail marketing at Juneau-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), referencing FMI – The Food Industry Association’s “2023 Power of Seafood Report from earlier this year. “However, while global seafood sales saw a slight (3.8%) year-over-year decrease in 2022, sales were still higher than in 2019, indicating the widespread increase in seafood consumption that began in 2020 (when home seafood consumption hit an all-time high) is here to stay. Shoppers who became more comfortable preparing seafood at home continue to appreciate the versatility, health benefits and environmental friendliness of the category, with many ‘gateway’ species like wild Alaska salmon and cod having earned a consistent place at the table.”
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The key to growing seafood sales is to keep that momentum going, and the organization has a wealth of ideas about how to do just that.
“ASMI recently launched its Cook Wild campaign in an effort to remove what the recent research uncovered as the biggest barrier to seafood purchase, by providing shoppers nationwide with timely and simple cooking inspiration,” says Dukes. “The campaign includes direct-to-consumer inspiration and cooking tips via influencers and chef partners, as well as a toolkit for retailers and other industry members to help make cooking wild more accessible to their customers. The program included an exciting sweepstakes offering a year’s supply of Alaska seafood, a limited-edition Hedley & Bennett seafood apron, and a cooking class with an Alaska chef.”
She also notes that “[r]etailers can capitalize on the widespread availability of premium species like wild sockeye with attention-grabbing deals, where shoppers won’t have to compromise quality for cost savings.”
When it comes to getting consumers out of their seafood comfort zone, Dukes advises: “Prepared items in the seafood case like pre-marinated filets, kebabs or items like cakes/burgers can help shoppers branch out into a new species that they may not be comfortable experimenting with from scratch just yet. For example, using species like Alaska rockfish or flounder in a prepared fish taco mix, or marinated sablefish filets in addition to the more commonly found salmon.”
In regard to emerging trends in the category, Dukes believes that the future is wild and flavorful. “In terms of overall trends for the industry, the demand for wild and sustainable seafood will only continue to grow, as 82% of shoppers prefer wild over farmed seafood,” she asserts, citing Datassential research. “Flavor trends for seafood products are following many of the major flavor trends across the food industry, including increased global influence (especially of Asian flavors like miso and Gochujang), flavor fusions, and refreshing flavors like botanicals and citrus.”
Farm to Fork
Meanwhile, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has found that “[d]espite the impact of inflation on seafood sales, retailers around the world expanded their offerings of ASC-labeled products in all categories in 2022 and 2023,” asserts Kathleen McDavitt, ASC’s U.S. market development manager.“ This suggests that there is still strong shopper demand for certified responsible seafood even as pressure from inflation persists.”
The organization is in the second year of a multiyear marketing campaign – its largest to date globally and the first of its kind in North America – to build interest in, and awareness and understanding of, responsibly farmed seafood and the meaning behind ASC’s sea green label.
“We want to meet consumers where they’re at and bring them along on the farm-to-fork journey, which modern aquaculture is very much a part of,” explains Athena Davis, marketing manager at Wilmington, N.C.-based ASC North America. “Recognizing the consistent growth trends of farmed seafood and potential risks associated with products that are not verified by a reputable third-party certification and labeling program, our goal is to provide seafood shoppers with the information they need to make informed and responsible purchases.”
Adds Davis: “Our campaign is designed to increase recognition of ASC’s label and access to these in-demand certified products through a series of national activations in key local markets. In 2023, we successfully brought the ‘Sea Green. Be Green.’ experience to Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; and Southern California via retail sampling events and promotions, food festivals, chef-driven dining experiences, and always-on digital and media outreach. We will soon announce 2024’s target cities and look forward to an exciting round of fresh in-person and online activities.”
When asked about how to introduce seafood shoppers to unfamiliar species, Davis replies: “If retailers are interested in carrying new seafood species, they should provide consumer education that’s accessible and speaks directly to their shoppers’ needs. Seafood can be intimidating, so offering more information about the species and its source, potential health benefits, hands-on experiences, and simple ways to cook it at home make for easy introductions. In-store sampling of lesser-known seafood products that are high in quality and flavor also gives shoppers an immediate and eye-opening introduction. While shrimp and salmon are still leading in consumption, we’re seeing positive results on the ground with consumers tasting ASC-certified species like barramundi, kanpachi and trout nationwide.”
In fact, ASC and New Seasons Market’s National Seafood Month collaboration included an interactive in-store filleting demo showing shoppers how to deconstruct a whole trout. A digital version was made available online, along with point-of-sale handouts with step-by-step instructions at all 19 store locations.
Unsurprisingly, sustainability looms large for ASC in the near future. “A few trends we see coming in the next few years are more certified sushi options in the prepared foods departments, and more exciting promotions of certified seafood store-wide that increase consumer interest and engagement,” notes McDavitt, while according to Davis: “From sustainable farming practices to food waste, consumers – especially Gen Z – will be taking an even harder look at how we eat and the impacts on the planet. As we look at current and forecasted seafood trends – seaweed comes to mind – there is an opportunity for retailers to step up their game when it comes to sourcing and marketing sustainable seafood.”