Getting Consumers Hooked on Fresh Seafood

Getting Consumers Hooked on Fresh Seafood

There’s no denying that consumer purchasing trends are mirroring their desires to lead healthier lives. And the fresh food section of the store is driving big sales growth in the process. But while items like salad and vegetables are fostering a good portion of that growth, the fresh seafood section could use a pick-me-up.

For many retailers, Lent, the six-week period between Ash Wednesday and Easter when many Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays, provides that much-needed seafood sales boost. In fact, U.S. retailers generated $1 billion in seafood sales during Lent last year (seven weeks ended April 15, 2017). But outside of this brief period of the year, seafood sales lag well behind those of the other fresh categories. It also has the lowest household penetration of the five areas of the fresh food departments.

Despite the struggling household penetration and shopping frequency data, seafood sales are up this year, as dollar sales increased 3.4% in the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24, 2018 (10 days into Lent). Much of that increase; however, is likely due to the 4.5% increase in average retail price, as volume sales are down 1.1% over the same period.

Seafood sales are up this year, as dollar sales increased 3.4% in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 24, 2018

While overall seafood sales are somewhat flat, it’s worth noting that certain fresh seafood options are significantly outpacing their performance versus a year ago, both in dollar and volume sales.

But the seafood category has much more to offer than just shrimp, scallops and flounder. And according to Nielsen research, nearly 20% of U.S. consumers say they want to add more fish to their diets. There are certain barriers in seafood that don’t exist in other areas of the fresh department, like salad and deli. For example, some consumers express concerns about seafood quality and freshness, while others are unsure about how to cook/prepare the products.

Sustainability is another aspect that factors into consumer purchasing decisions. And when it comes to seafood, more and more consumers want to be sure the products they buy are responsibly sourced. Sales of all seafood with sustainability claims increased 3% over the past year, while sales of seafood with Marine Stewardship Council labeling grew 27% and sales of seafood with Sustainable Fishing labeling grew 30%.

In addition to opportunities around educating consumers about freshness, sustainability and preparation, retailers can also boost their growth in the seafood area by borrowing on some recent successes in other realms of the fresh departments, such as the deli-prepared area. Notably, when food is partially or fully prepared, busy consumers have access to quick, healthy options that also remove the “guessing game” when it comes to food preparation. And as a result, we’re seeing strong growth in seafood offerings that are either partially or fully prepared.

And when it comes to prepared food, there’s no denying the impact that meal kits are having on the U.S. retail market. With $154.6 million in in-store meal kit sales last year, retailers could very easily bring seafood into this rapidly growing grocery option, especially since 29% of meal kit users say they eat more seafood with meal kits.

As the data highlights, consumers don’t shop for seafood the way they shop for other fresh categories. But it does offer retailers a sea of opportunity—if they encourage trials, provide preparation guidance, showcase convenience and find ways to appeal to consumers’ true desires to include more fish in their diets.


The insights in this article were derived from the following sources:

  • FreshFacts data
  • Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight, xAOC, latest 52 weeks ending March 31, 2018
  • Homescan Panel, total shopper view