The seafood department is ripe for an activity rebound.
Despite a disappointing 2022 which saw a 14.8% decline in fresh seafood volume sales along with an 8.2% drop in dollar sales, retailers still have the potential to boost activity by converting many in the large base of non-buyers into regular seafood shoppers.
While initiating purchasing from such shoppers can be a challenge, retailers that leverage the necessary sales triggers are in position to greatly expand their consumer buying segments.
Key among such initiatives is making seafood pricing more cost attractive.
The average price of fresh seafood increased 7.8% to $9.37 a pound for the 52 weeks ending January 1, 2023, reported Information Resources Inc. (IRI), a Chicago-based market research firm.
Creating a positive price perception among shoppers is vital as 48% of consumers list cost/expense as having a major impact on their decision not to eat seafood, up seven percentage points from a year earlier, reported Arlington, Va.-based FMI—The Food Industry Association.
In the nationally representative November 2022 survey of 2,006 U.S. grocery shoppers 18 years of age and older, 39% of consumers also named cost compared to other proteins as a reason for not buying seafood, a 10-point increase.
Other impediments were preference for other food (36%), taste or flavor (31%), seafood not top of mind (26%), smell/odor (26%), and freshness (26%).
In identifying what might prompt non-seafood buyers to purchase products, 66% of respondents listed good/sale price, a five-point increase from a year earlier.
Next were eating at a restaurant (55%), sampling (51%), recommendation from family/friend (49%), money-back guarantee (42%), and recipes other than from the store (41%).
“While often a difficult sell, retailers should still seek to appeal to the growing number of non-seafood consumers,” FMI said in its Power of Seafood 2023 report. “As some of them were likely occasional seafood consumers in the past, sales or specials and sampling are approaches to consider in targeting these shoppers along with the health benefits of seafood.”
A large percentage of non- or occasional buyers are likely to initiate purchases under the proper conditions, said Chuck Anderson, vice president and partner with Certified Quality Foods, a Dallas-based analyzer of seafood quality, and the former vice president of seafood procurement for Quincy, Mass.-based Ahold USA, and the former category manager for seafood at San Antonio-based H-E-B.
He estimates that 25% of shoppers do not, and will not, buy seafood, noting “don’t worry about winning these customers.”
On the opposite end, Anderson said that about 25% of shoppers are core seafood customers that eat selections at least twice a week and love to cook seafood at home.
“That leaves about fifty percent of shoppers that will buy seafood if the right circumstances exist,” he said. “These occasional seafood customers may only now buy for special celebrations and primarily purchase shellfish, such as lobster, crab, shell stock, and shrimp for special occasions.”
While retailers can use discounts and promotions to interest shoppers and provide ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat selections to attract persons who are more likely to eat seafood at restaurants, having a well-operated a seafood department also is important for driving activity, Anderson indicated.
That includes offering high-quality selections along with employing associates who can properly handle seafood and have the authority to remove products that they perceive to be inferior, he said,
“Commitment to running a seafood department right is the biggest challenge to increasing market share and winning over reluctant customers,” Anderson said. “It takes time, money, and training to make a seafood department a destination for seafood customers. Non-seafood shoppers can become occasional and regular seafood shoppers if the commitment is there.”
While he said there are many reluctant seafood buyers in all demographic segments, rural areas typically have more non-eaters as many of the consumers may not have grown up with easy access to seafood, he said.
Lower-income individuals, meanwhile, may have been unable to afford many seafood products, Anderson said.
Seafood department associates can help drive interest by talking with potential customers about such elements as taste and cooking techniques, he said.
“If seafood staffing levels only allow for taking orders and wrapping products, the time needed to answer questions and help reluctant customers with handling and preparation instructions is not there,” Anderson said.
Stores also can convert more non-buyers into purchasers by making the seafood department a destination site, which in addition to providing quality products and services offers convenience-oriented self-service selections consisting of the best-selling items as well as value-added prepared foods, he said.