The steady increase in seafood sales over the past two years has been well documented, with more consumers opting to cook seafood at home at the start of the pandemic and that trend continuing for taste, health, and sustainability reasons throughout 2021 and 2022. According to Food Marketing Institute, the global seafood market is expected to hit $110 billion, with the U.S. market accounting for more than 25% of that market share. As seafood consumption continues to climb into 2023, the biggest trend we’ll see is particularity on which types, with consumers branching beyond “comfort species,” and putting more focus on inspiration, sustainability and origin, specifically choosing wild more often.
According to FMI’s 2022 Power of Seafood Report, half of consumers say they’ve been cooking more meals with seafood throughout the pandemic, with 59% of shoppers considered frequent (two or more times a week) or occasional (once a week or once a month) seafood consumers. Forty percent of seafood consumers say they are buying new or different types of seafood, including grab-and-go meals and marinated/seasoned options.
This growth was initiated early in 2020 when many food service formats shifted and consumers who ate seafood at restaurants opted to purchase and prepare it at home. Research from Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and Datassential in 2021 revealed that 26% of consumers purchased seafood for the first time during the pandemic. An increased focus on personal health drove many to recognize the benefits of seafood as a high-quality protein and source of omega-3s and other immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin D. Correspondingly, in 2021, sales from the seafood department at retail saw an increase of nearly 30% — much stronger than meat, produce, deli and bakery. Now, 73% of seafood consumers are more comfortable cooking it than they have been in the past.
What does this mean for processors, retailers, and food service operators?
- Inspiration. Although consumers are more comfortable cooking seafood now than ever, they are still looking for ways to keep things exciting (and easy) in the kitchen. Eighty percent of shoppers want to learn more about how to cook, prepare and flavor seafood. Both in-store and digitally, anything that can help home cooks easily prepare more seafood and inspire them in the kitchen will be beneficial. Providing educational materials can help processors and retailers capitalize on consumers’ willingness to branch out to new species, like wild Alaska rockfish, sablefish, halibut, or scallops in addition to tried-and-true favorites like salmon and cod. At AlaskaSeafood.org, our vast recipe library integrates seamlessly with retailers, linking ideas directly to purchase the highest quality wild Alaska seafood, along with other ingredients.
- Sustainability. Consumers are also choosing seafood because they consider it an environmentally healthy protein, with half of seafood shoppers saying sustainability claims/certifications have an impact on their purchasing decisions (FMI). Transparency from sea to table will be ever more important, so that seafood consumers at the point of purchase (whether that’s at grocery or foodservice) can be informed about the story behind their seafood. Clearly labeling the source and including any certifications, such as Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM), can help shoppers feel confident in their purchasing decisions.
- Origin: Wild seafood is low in contaminants and if sourced from regions like Alaska, protected from overfishing, as all seafood from Alaska follows credible standards for sustainability and supply chain traceability. More consumers than ever are making the wild choice, with 82% of consumers choosing seafood because it’s wild-caught (ASMI/Datassential). Knowing the origin also maintains trust and confidence in seafood quality across the fresh, frozen, and canned/pouched segments; for example, 82% of consumers believe that stores that display the Alaska Seafood logo sell high-quality seafood (ASMI/Datassential).
While COVID-19 presented its challenges across the seafood industry, it also revealed opportunities for the seafood industry to improve supply chains, sustainability practices, traceability, and quality assurance. If the industry — everyone from fishermen to processors, retailers to restaurants — wants to succeed in satisfying the growing number of seafood-savvy consumers, they’re going to have to.
Megan Rider is domestic marketing director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.