Still, manufacturers are optimistic about 2023, especially the value-added segment.
While inflation is not as severe in frozen seafood as other categories, it’s dragging down sales nonetheless. Dollar sales dropped 5.3% to $548 million during the four weeks ended Jan. 29 (versus the same period a year ago) while units plunged 10.9%, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iri
worldwide.com). The impact on fresh seafood sales wasn’t as bad: dollars slid just 1.8% to $484 million, while units fell 4.9%.
‘There’s been an overall decline in people going out to eat, more people are substituting seafood for beef, and consumers are becoming more comfortable preparing seafood at home.’
Still, rising prices probably deserve at least some of the blame for unit losses. Frozen seafood prices were up 6.3% in January (compared with January 2022) to $10.44 per unit on average. But for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 29, prices were up 10.1%, according to IRI and Lakeland, Fla.-based 210 Analytics. Frozen salmon (+19.3%) and pollock (+19.3%) saw some of the biggest price hikes in January compared with the previous year. On the other hand, frozen crab prices fell 15.7% in January after several months of price increases in early 2022.
Frozen shrimp prices, on the other hand, have been a bit less volatile, up 2.5% in January and 9.5% for the year. However, shrimp sales dropped 5.4% in January and 4.8% for the year, likely related to above-average level of inflation, according to 210 Analytics principal Anne-Marie Roerink.
Despite the price hikes, inflation in frozen seafood has been “relatively mild” compared to overall food and beverage price increases of 13.2% in January and a whopping 30.3% for the year, says Roerink. As a result, many seafood suppliers registered sales gains in 2022 and are optimistic about 2023.
“We’re on track for a favorable year,” confirms Maureen Johnson, director of marketing at Salisbury, Md.-based Handy Seafood, citing several potential growth drivers. “There’s been an overall decline in people going out to eat, more people are substituting seafood for beef, and consumers are becoming more comfortable preparing seafood at home.”
After launching two co-branded products last year with McCormick’s Old Bay seasoning — Old Bay Crab Cakes and Old Bay Breaded Shrimp — Johnson expects redesigned packaging to draw in even more customers. The more vibrant, contemporary design “hits on consumers’ desire for flavorful, easy-to-prepare seafood delivered in convenient, inviting, and environmentally conscious packaging,” she says.
Bellingham, Wash.-based Trans-Ocean Products is also revamping packaging for its top-selling products, including Crab Classic and Simply Surimi Seafood & Snackers. The complete packaging refresh, which includes increased window space, updated photography and design, and key callouts, will roll out this summer, according to sales and marketing vp Lou Shaheen.
Because it offers inflation-weary shoppers such a value, surimi has done well throughout the pandemic, says Shaheen. Overall sales rose 3.2% during the 52 weeks ending Jan. 1, while Trans-Ocean’s sales soared 11%, according to IRI.
“Consumers like the seafood value, ease of use and availability of surimi seafoods,” says Shaheen. Larger pack sizes are growing fastest, but sales of Trans-Ocean’s individual-size 3-ounce Simply Surimi Snackers are also strong, presenting a “great consumer value of under $2 a unit,” according to Shaheen.
‘CONVENIENCE TREND IS HERE TO STAY’
While the frozen seafood category as a whole is down, value-added seafood sales rose 1% during the 52 weeks ending Jan. 1, reports IRI. Patty Essick, senior director of innovation for Thai Union North America, which owns El Segundo, Calif.-based Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods (COSFF), says she’s not surprised. “The convenience trend of ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook is here to stay.”
While the frozen seafood category as a whole is down, value-added seafood sales rose 1% during the 52 weeks ending Jan. 1.
Since Thai Union Group is a majority owner of Red Lobster, COSFF is partnering with the restaurant chain on four Red Lobster-branded frozen seafood items, including: Cheddar Bay Biscuit Shrimp (a combination of the restaurant chain’s famous biscuits and crispy shrimp), Coconut Shrimp Bites (crispy shrimp coated with coconut flakes and paired with Sweet Chili Sauce), Cheddar Bay Biscuit Cod (wild cod breaded with Cheddar Bay Biscuit seasoning) and Parmesan Crusted Garlic & Herb Stuffed Shrimp (shrimp stuffed with garlic, herbs and cream cheese coated with a parmesan-crusted breading).
Essick notes that consumers are increasingly looking for a “restaurant experience” at home, which has helped restaurant-branded retail product lines maintain or exceed their COVID growth. “But we saw a gap in the market: there was no national seafood restaurant brand in retail.” She adds, “We are excited to see all the ingredients of this great partnership come together: Red Lobster’s 99% consumer awareness, a fan favorite menu and a national restaurant footprint combined with Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods’ expertise in frozen seafood.”
St. Simons Island, Ga.-based SeaPak Shrimp & Seafood, a Rich Products brand, is also making the most of its Budweiser partnership with the launch of a new co-branded product: SeaPak Budweiser Beer Battered Flounder Strips. Billed as the only beer-battered frozen flounder product on the market, the strips are paired with a classic tartar sauce and retail for a suggested $10.99 each.
The Anheuser-Busch/SeaPak partnership began in 2019 with a full range of products, including SeaPak Budweiser Beer Battered Shrimp, SeaPak Budweiser Beer Battered Cod, and SeaPak Budweiser Beer Battered Crab Poppers.
SeaPak is also planning to extend its Rich Products-owned Morey’s lineup with its first flounder item, a garlic-herb variety expected to debut later this year.
A HEALTHIER APPROACH TO FROZEN SEAFOOD
Another major frozen seafood category player, Gloucester, Mass.-based Gorton’s, is focusing on a healthier product line, recently rolling out Air Fried Butterfly Shrimp and Air Fried Fish Fillets that contain 50% less fat than similar products fried in oil. Gorton’s research reveals that air frying is the second most-popular method for cooking frozen prepared seafood, so the two SKUs come with cooking instructions for both air fryers and ovens.
“We’re excited to deliver a way for all consumers — even those who don’t own an air fryer — to enjoy the benefits of light, super-crispy breaded seafood via our new Air Fried Fish Fillets and Butterfly Shrimp,” says Gorton’s vp of marketing Jake Holbrook.
Made with wild Alaska pollock, the Air Fried Fillets are available in 15.2-ounce bags with an $8.99 suggested retail price, while the Air Fried Butterfly Shrimp is sold in 9-ounce bags, also for $8.99.
Meanwhile, Jersey City, N.J.-based Choice Canning Co., is adding Breaded Butterfly and Coconut Butterfly Shrimp to its Tastee Choice lineup as an adjunct to extensive shrimp-based meal offerings, including Shrimp Scampi, Shrimp Alfredo, Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo, and Shrimp Florentine.
The 9-ounce Coconut Butterfly Shrimp includes a zesty marmalade sauce, and the 9-ounce Breaded Butterfly Shrimp is hand-breaded. Choice Canning sources the shrimp from its state-of-the-art farms, and it’s produced in four-star Best Aquaculture Practices plants.
New seafood boil bags are appearing in supermarkets across the country.
SEAFOOD BOILS MADE EASY
As Americans’ love for boils heightens both at home and at restaurants, new seafood boil bags are appearing in supermarkets across the country. After finding success with Seafood Boil bags launched last year, Tastee Choice is introducing two new varieties: Crawfish Boil and Clam Bake. The 35-ounce Crawfish Boil includes domestic whole crawfish, Andouille sausage, corn, potatoes, and a special spice mix, while the Clam Bake includes corn on the cob, shrimp, Andouille sausage, clams, potatoes and a seasoning packet.
Seafood boils give customers “not only a convenient way to enjoy the traditional flavors of seafood restaurant cuisine at home, but also a sense of fulfilment that comes with [preparing] a homemade meal,” says Moe Cheramie, sales and marketing vp for the Tastee Choice’s frozen skillet meal division.
Also jumping on the seafood boil trend is Jacksonville, Fla.-based Beaver Street Fisheries, which recently added a Steamer Pot to its Sea Best Seafood Festival lineup. The frozen New England-style boil includes shrimp, cold water lobster claws, clams, and mussels.
Beaver Street Fisheries launched a Sea Best Shrimp & Crab Pot in 2018, but the new frozen product “addresses consumer demand for more interesting seafood options that are easy to prepare at home,” said the company in a press release.
Other new value-added items hitting the market recently include salmon burgers and salmon dip from Hixton, Wis.-based Superior Fresh. The aquaponics company’s gluten-free salmon burgers (in two-patty 8-ounce packages) are made entirely from whole muscle salmon fillets and organic ingredients. The salmon is raised on a land-based farm where it’s fed an all-organic diet free of GMOs, pesticides and antibiotics.
The company’s ready-to eat 6-ounce smoked salmon dip can be paired with everything from bagels to wraps, says the supplier.