The era of general seafood aversion among average American consumers is over.
Restaurant customers and home cooks alike are increasingly interested in finding ways to introduce seafood options into their diets. Food companies are striving to meet these evolving consumer demands and to understand the motivation behind them.
The Food Industry Association’s (FMI) latest “Power of Seafood” report found that close to 70% of shoppers say they buy seafood because it’s a sustainable food source, as noted by Progressive Grocer.
When grocery shopping in 2023, consumers are increasingly considering factors like water usage and overall CO2 emissions. When it comes to seafood, understanding how it was harvested and packaged can make a big difference. According to the report findings, “farm-raised” and “wild-caught” options are growing in popularity among seafood shoppers.
“More consumers are understanding that seafood is one of the most sustainable animal proteins, and produces one of the lowest carbon footprints of any protein across the globe,” said Melaina Lewis, communications director at the National Fisheries Institute.
Fighting Confusion, High Prices
While consumers can be attracted to sustainability-related buzzwords, it’s important to remember that some terms can cause confusion, and this is where companies can step in and make their products more clearly defined.
FMI concluded in its report that slightly less than half of seafood consumers are unclear on the term “wild-caught,” 51% don’t know what “farm-raised” means, and a good majority don’t understand the term “aquaculture.”
In general, seafood offers shoppers a convenient protein source at an economical price point.
Sales of frozen seafood began outpacing fresh seafood in 2020 as consumers were focused more on foods that can be bought in bulk and kept fresh for long periods of time, Progressive Grocer noted. Faced with the uncertainty of the pandemic, shoppers needed affordable and healthy options on hand as grocery stores were running low on inventory.
The rapid changes may have increased an appetite for seafood, but inflationary pricing has taken its toll on both fresh and frozen seafood since 2020 with sales declining.
The Health and Wellness Factor
While unstable markets and supply chains can be blamed, consumers have not been turned off to seafood and are still interested in fresh and convenient ways of preparing such items. One of the key motivating factors for seafood purchases is its nutritional benefits.
Close to 70% of shoppers go to seafood for health and wellness reasons, according to FMI’s report. Among frequent seafood shoppers, over 80% cite nutrition as their main motivation.
With concerns circulating about the effects of eating red meat, seafood has become an increasingly intriguing option for many shoppers. Along with being a good protein source, seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and essential vitamins.
Despite all the positive features that make seafood popular, it is still the overall price of fresh, quality seafood that turns shoppers away.
When asked to pick a protein option assuming that all prices were the same, about a quarter of shoppers told FMI that seafood would be their first choice. This signals a growing interest in the food category, and also points out the biggest obstacles seafood sellers have when it comes to satisfying demand.
“We’re witnessing consumers re-establish their daily routines and a convergence back to the pre-pandemic norm of the relationship between foodservice and retail,” Lewis said. “With a growing demand for seafood at restaurants and dining room tables, in response, businesses are expanding their opportunities for value-added seafood products for customers.”
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