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Up, Down and Across

Most everyone has been hit in one way or another by the recession, whether it be lost jobs or stagnant pay, and it's affected the way we spend our money, but has it affected the way we eat seafood?

According to Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Perishables Group, and Butch Brougher, associate client director, Nielsen Company, it has. Consumers are looking for ways to change their seafood purchasing habits without sacrificing quality and some consumers are trading out of fresh to frozen.

Many consumers are trading down, or trading across categories, but what Lutz emphasized was that if retailers don't do a good job, they risk consumers opting out of the category altogether. On the other hand, there are also value opportunities that cause for consumers to actually trade up and retailers should promote these opportunities. A good example is lobster sales over the past year — lobster volume was up 81% last year, and halibut, one of the more expensive seafood options, increased 21.5% in volume with just a 10% decrease in price in 2009.

"If you don’t think value is a driver and you don’t think consumers respond to value, remember halibut and remember that shift in behavior," Lutz said. "Consumers were actually spending considerably more if there is value. Those opportunities continue to be out there. We have a significantly new category consumer complexity that we didn’t have two years ago."

As far as seafood purchases go, about 50% of respondents said they are buying about the same amount of seafood; 25% said less and another 25% said more. Of the 25% who said they're buying less, 82% cited price as the reason. Of those who said they're buying more, health was the number one cited reason.

Because of this, while value is number one, retailers also need to keep health, purchase criteria, demographics, and other factors in mind, Lutz said.

“Consumers are spending again, but they remain cautious, and we know behavior shifts and purchase patterns have emerged,” Lutz said. “Value will continue to be a key driver in consumer behavior in 2010, but value has a lot of different components and if all we focus on is price and forget health, purchase criteria, and so on, we lose out.”