AGING POPULATION COULD BOOST SEAFOOD SALES

SEATTLE (FNS) - Though the future looks rosy for fish and seafood, retailers and restaurateurs must follow trends closely to maximize sales, industry experts said at the Seafood Summit here.Increased demand for fish and seafood will be driven by demographics and population growth, predicted Howard Johnson, a Jacksonville, Ore.-based seafood economist. He pointed to the growing number of aging baby

SEATTLE (FNS) - Though the future looks rosy for fish and seafood, retailers and restaurateurs must follow trends closely to maximize sales, industry experts said at the Seafood Summit here.

Increased demand for fish and seafood will be driven by demographics and population growth, predicted Howard Johnson, a Jacksonville, Ore.-based seafood economist. He pointed to the growing number of aging baby boomers as the leading factor spurring increased consumption.

In fact, consumption currently hovers around 16.5 pounds per capita, eclipsing beef and pork, Johnson said, citing statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Increased fish consumption is driven by age," he said. "By 2020 there will be more than 70 million people over 60 years old. Over the past few years there has been a decline of consumption in red meat and an increase of consumption in seafood. There has been an expansion and diversification of aquaculture, which has increased the supply and delivered continuity of supply."

But supply does not come close to demand, he reported. Value-added products, such as skinless and boneless items and cooked products, shrimp in particular, are making inroads in positioning fish and seafood as accessible and easy for home cooks to prepare. However more work needs to be done to supply the estimated 3.3 million pounds of seafood that will be required to satisfy projected demand, he said.

Among the trends fishermen, processors and importers should follow are meeting the consumer's desire for more generic white fish by presenting tilapia, basa and tra, and introducing cultured alternatives to endangered species, such as barramundi in place of Chilean sea bass, Johnson said.

Eco-labeling is another emerging trend that merchandisers should consider to boost sales, he said. In the United States, organic standards for seafood do not exist, and consumers are confused when they see seafood products labeled as organic. So marketers should make it clear that the product was harvested using the best possible practices and address the sustainable aspects of the capture and the fishery, Johnson said.

To appeal to older consumers, he suggested marketers play up the health benefits of seafood.

"Functional nutrition information of seafood, such as vitamins and omega oils, needs to be addressed as consumers become more concerned about health and nutrition," he said. "Smaller portions and package sizes for smaller households is another method to reach out to consumers seeking fish."

For all ages, value-added products will gain in popularity, Johnson said. Skinless and boneless filets, tenders and strips alongside marinated or seasoned products and meal kits will capture the attention of consumers.

The stage has been set for positioning fish and seafood as luxury products, much like a handcrafted coffee beverage or beer, or premium ice cream, he said.

"It provides a superior experience and is available for mass distribution," he said. "Fish is able to deliver on the same branding promise other luxury foods have made."

Hosted by Seafood Choices Alliance, the two-day conference was attended by retailers, chefs, fishermen, environmentalists and government regulators.