A steep decline in seafood activity has merchandisers scurrying for sales remedies. One potential solution? Position seafood as a snack instead of a main meal.
“Seafood had a tough 2022,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics LLC, a San Antonio-based market research and marketing strategies firm. “Engagement was down and that means we need to get creative.”
With Chicago-based market research firm Information Resources Inc. (IRI) reporting that volume sales of fresh finfish and fresh shellfish were down 12.3% and 18.7%, respectively, for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 1, while frozen finfish and frozen shellfish sales fell 11% and 4.8%, respectively, it is essential for sellers to seek solutions that can jumpstart purchasing.
Emphasizing seafood’s role as a snacking option is a way to create more eating occasions, Roerink said. While most seafood consumption occurs at dinnertime, meal occasions are becoming increasingly fluid and creating opportunities for newer options, she said.
“Snacking is huge for adults and kids alike and protein remains a powerful nutrition claim that people look for, particularly during the afternoon and evening break,” Roerink said.
Seafood snacks can be particularly attractive to the greater number of people working from home who have easy access to air fryers and microwaves, along with the growing amounts of individuals replacing lunch with several smaller snacking occasions, she said.
Yet, a segment of shoppers and merchandisers already embrace seafood snacks. That includes consumers using canned and pouched tuna to create on-the-go solutions, like tuna salad and crackers, and retailers that are offering frozen options like breaded shrimp or bacon-wrapped scallops that can be eaten as either a snack, appetizer, or even center-of-the-plate protein, Roerink said.
Seafood department operators also are in position to propel activity by offering more fresh snacking options. Along with such selections as shrimp platters, smaller portions of sushi, and seafood salad, items like one-person servings of shrimp with cocktail sauce, sashimi, and shrimp and salmon kebabs can potentially boost buying, Roerink said.
In addition, retailers can merchandise salmon in slices that are easy to put on sandwich bread and situate crackers and other accoutrements next to fresh seafood to encourage snacking, she said.
For the most powerful payback, merchandisers should market seafood snacks to the households with the highest penetration of seafood purchasing, Roerink said, noting “that way you start with the widest market.”
Attractive targets include males, consumers with more formal education, higher-income households, and younger shoppers. Millennials between the ages of 27 and 42 comprise 35% of seafood customers and 44% of the frequent seafood buyers who eat seafood two or more times a week, states the Power of Meat 2022 report, published by Arlington, Va.-based FMI, the Food Industry Association.
In contrast, only 18% of Baby Boomers, or those between 59 and 77, are frequent seafood eaters.
Consumers in regions that over index in seafood consumption, such as the Northeast, also are among the strongest snacking candidates, especially because many of the shoppers tend to be more adventurous in their eating.
Urban and suburban shoppers are likely to generate the most seafood as a snack purchasing as well because of their higher trip frequency to supermarkets and interest in consuming seafood when it is the freshest.
“There also is a big opportunity for seafood snacking in combination with air fryers,” Roerink said. “Many consumers mention firing up the air fryer for things like pizza bites or a pretzel, so why not seafood-based snacks?”
Nevertheless, while seafood for snacking is a potentially strong revenue generator, enticing a wide array of shopper segments to embrace the concept still can be arduous, Roerink said.
“It would be a new habit, and it is always harder to sell consumers on a new routine than an upgrade of an existing one,” she said. “Especially when that new routine involves seafood, which has a much lower household penetration.”
The typically higher price of seafood compared to other proteins also can be an impediment. IRI reported that fresh seafood prices rose about 7.8% over the last year, and prices for such attractive value-added snacking options as fresh seafood salad and fresh seafood cakes increased 14% and 6.7%, respectively.
In response, retailers can consider temporarily lowering prices for snacking options.
“In today’s climate, an attractive price does wonders to drive trial,” Roerink said. “In a marketplace where consumers are hyper focused on saving money, it’s tough to entice people to try something new.”
She added, however, that seafood’s positive health halo gives it “a big leg up. It is an important angle that could drive new routines.”