BOSTON — As part of the annual State of the Consumer Report on Seafood here at the International Boston Seafood Show, representatives from the NPD Group, Fishery Products International and Seafood Business magazine joined together to examine menu trends, discussing which finfish and shellfish species consumers were favoring at restaurants as ingredients, appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees.
Highlights of the session included the revelation that consumer interest in many seafood appetizers and entrees actually exceeds order patterns for all species, and that shrimp and crab are the most-menued species.
Seventy percent of restaurant menus offer shrimp, which also accounts for 17% of total seafood menu listings in the U.S. Another prominent species was salmon, with 35% of restaurants now offering the finfish in some form on their menus, Nicole Valenti, NPD's director of business development, food service, told the audience. Interest in wild salmon is strongest in the West, where wild product is generally more accessible and less expensive than in other regions of the country.
“We see that many dynamics are impacting seafood demand over the past couple of years,” Valenti added, noting that consumers are trading down when eating out and that seafood demand is currently trending flat or down in the restaurant industry.
“The economy and discretionary income is down, and it's affected consumer confidence.”
In addition, the NPD Group's Web-based survey of approximately 3,600 consumers in December 2007 illustrated that people want to see more baked, broiled, grilled and fried seafood options, and that region, race, gender and other demographic factors are powerful indicators of a seafood item's potential popularity in a market.
Notably, African Americans and Asian Americans showed the strongest interest in seafood. Males and younger consumers also showed a higher interest than other groups. Strong regional preferences were also evident, reflecting local culture and supply, with the strongest seafood order rates being in the South — led by African American consumption — and the weakest being in the Midwest.
Nationally, shrimp cocktail and butterflied shrimp lead the ordered rates in the seafood appetizer and entree categories, while shrimp skewers and stuffed shrimp are showing potential for growth, according to Rick Spalding, director of marketing, Fishery Products International.
Stuffed shrimp and stuffed lobster provide a large opportunity for restaurants, since 37% of consumers showed interest in these products, or claim that they would have ordered them if available. However, only 9% of restaurant-goers actually ordered these items in the past six months.
The strongest desire for shrimp appetizers and entrees came from the West, where 76.4% of survey respondents said they would order a shrimp appetizer if it was available.
Crab cakes were another leader in the appetizer category. Asian Americans showed the strongest desire for crab, at 75%, but African Americans led actual order rates at 55%. The strongest demand among the survey's total sample occurred among Generations X and Y.
The percentage of respondents who said they would order fried calamari or sushi came the closest to mirroring existing demand.