As grocery sales increased across the board during the pandemic, the seafood department proved to be a leader as the category saw a 28.4% increase in sales year over — exceeding the sales growth of the produce (up 11.3%), meat (up 18.7%) or deli departments (up 0.9%), according to the 2021 Power of Seafood Report released by FMI — The Food Industry Association.
In total, seafood (fresh, frozen, canned, pouches, etc.) generated more than $16.6 billion in sales for food retailers in 2020.
Seafood sales growth took place across frozen (+35.7%), fresh (+24.9%) and grocery (+21.3%) seafood. The growth also took place across every species of seafood with the big three — shrimp (+29.6%), salmon (+24.7%) and tuna (+20.4%) — showing strong annual growth. Sales of crab (+60.2%) and lobster (+59.9%) saw the biggest growth.
According to the report, the biggest reason for increased consumption is consumers are trying to eat healthier (59%). The Power of Seafood 2021 finds 72% of frequent seafood consumers are putting more effort into making healthy and nutritious choices since the pandemic. At the same time, 74% of seafood consumers, and 43% of non-seafood consumers, want to become more knowledgeable about the nutritional benefits of seafood. Seafood is a major source of healthful omega-3 fats and is also rich in nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat.
“The analysis suggests an urgency for food retailers to expand their seafood programs to help sustain consumer awareness of this protein that has emerged in popularity as a result of the pandemic,” said Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for FMI. “The call to action among grocers is to focus on seafood nutrition, cooking guidance, meal ideas and sustainability both in-store and online as ways to maintain shopper interest in seafood.”
More consumers (36%) in general, and specifically more seafood consumers (53%), say they are cooking more meals with seafood during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, most seafood consumers (75%) want to be more knowledgeable about how to cook, prepare and flavor seafood. Some survey respondents report looking to food retailers’ seafood departments for guidance (20%) as well as grocery store websites or apps (18%).
The pandemic has impacted eating and cooking habits as some respondents cite their reason for eating more seafood being the desire for more variety in their diet. Another impact of the pandemic has been restaurants being closed, which has driven some of these seafood consumers to cook seafood at home that they would usually buy at a restaurant (30%). The pandemic has also impacted the value equation for seafood as some of these consumers also noted the favorable price for seafood compared to other proteins (27%), or other proteins like meat and poultry have not been available or out-of-stock (17%).
Home cooking has experienced a transformation during the pandemic as many consumers rediscovered and even discovered cooking in general and especially cooking seafood. More than half of seafood consumers (53%) and one-third of Americans (36%) say they are cooking more meals with seafood during the pandemic. This is especially the case among frequent seafood consumers (66%). The growth of seafood consumption has taken place at dinner and particularly at lunch with more Americans working and learning from home.
In addition, the Power of Seafood 2021 finds four in 10 seafood consumers (41%), up from 29% in 2019, say sustainable seafood certifications have a major impact on their seafood purchases. In fact, 71% want to be more knowledgeable about seafood sustainability.
The Power of Seafood 2021 was conducted by FMI and made possible by Veramaris.