While salmon prices are expected to remain high this year, shoppers will continue to demand salmon, retailers and analysts say. Offering specials and promotions — and educating shoppers about the health benefits of the fish — will further spur sales.

Salmon prices increased 3.5% for the quarter ending Dec. 31, according to Circana and 210 Analytics. Sales dropped 0.9% for the year ending Dec. 31 to $2.69 billion while units fell 2.4% and pounds fell 3.8%. Still, fresh salmon sales rose 4.4% compared to 2021 and 15.3% versus 2020.

“While salmon sales are down year-over-year, compared to pre-pandemic levels, salmon is still moving many more pounds in both the refrigerated and frozen sections of the store,” according to Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics. “The growth in salmon sales seen between 2020 and 2022 set a very high bar for salmon to continue to put gains on the board, especially when hit with inflationary conditions.”

Salmon prices are “strong” and look to stay firm this year, said Chuck Anderson, vice president of operations and partner at Dallas-based Certified Quality Foods, which helps retailers and distributors measure quality seafood.

Additionally, supermarket buyers are worried that ongoing Red Tide issues in Chile could hike farmed salmon prices from the country this year. Environmental authority Superintendencia del Medio Ambiente Cobierno de Chile warned salmon grow-out sites to be prepared in case of mass mortalities linked to the effects of El Niño, per IntraFish.

“Red Tide going around Chile in some areas could cause some farm raised Atlantic salmon costs to go up,” said Jason Resner, meat and seafood sales, merchandising, marketing, and procurement, Downer’s Grove, Ill.-based Fresh Thyme.

Salmon continues to be a popular item, but consumers continue to look at seafood as a “special occasion item,” making it easy to justify cutting it out when times are tough, acknowledged Jennifer Bushman, chief marketing officer for Norwegian sustainable farmed salmon supplier Kvarøy Arctic.

However, because Kvarøy targets specialty store shoppers who are interested in a high quality, sustainable salmon, Bushman expects sales to grow incrementally this year with steady pricing.

While substantial inflation hurt salmon sales and volume throughout much of 2023, deflation typically leads to an uptick in demand, said Roerink.

Anderson also believes salmon volume should hold up better than shellfish because salmon is “a staple menu item and not a discretionary purchase for many households.”

Last year, farmed salmon exports from Norway to the United States actually skyrocketed 21% in sales to $1 billion and rose 7% in volume to 71,000 metric tons, according to Anne-Kristine Øen, USA director for the Norwegian Seafood Council.

“Salmon is healthy, tasty and versatile. Americans are in general not eating enough seafood, and at the same time an increasing amount of people are trying to live more healthy lifestyles,” Oen said. 

Value-added salmon is hot

Shoppers can easily cook successfully with salmon and can also serve it raw in dishes like poke bowls, sushi, and sashimi, Øen said. And, due to salmon’s high content of healthy fat, it is also a “perfect choice” for the barbeque, Oen explained.

“As these are all popular and trending dishes and cooking methods, we expect the demand for salmon to remain high.”

Additionally, grocers can boost sales of salmon beyond the fresh case, Roerink said.

“The ready-to-cook meals in the deli, the fully-cooked salmon in the deli and of course sushi are all areas that had a strong 2023 and if you look at the consumption patterns of younger shoppers, it is likely that a lot of the growth will happen in the deli space.”

Other experts also predict a hike in value-added salmon products and overall seafood sales this year.

 “I expect deli prepared foods [including sushi] to continue to increase for seafood in 2024,” said Chris DuBois, executive vice president – Fresh/Protein practice leader for Chicago-based research firm Circana . “I don’t have an economic crystal ball, but unemployment is low, people are spending money and the economy is reasonably strong.”

Sushi, seafood salads and many other value-added items — performed better than many items in the fresh seafood case in the latter months of 2023, according to Circana. Sales of seafood appetizers, for example, surged nearly 210% in November.

Promotions are key

Discounts, sales and special events will be key to shoring up salmon sales this year.

“More than in prior years, my research shows that half of grocery shoppers check promotions and decide what to buy and cook from there prior to setting foot in the grocery store. So it’s important to have an aggressive promotional presence outside the store in addition to eye-catching displays and signage in the store,” Roerink said.

Salmon has among the highest household penetration of all seafood categories, making it a great fish to promote “because it simply draws more eyes than a more specialty variety,” she added.

San Antonio-based H-E-B is doing just that via a partnership with Seafood Nutrition Partnership’s “Fall in Love with Seafood” campaign, which launched last October. H-E-B is showcasing a variety fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable seafood along with sushi and poke bowls that include salmon as an ingredient. The 420-store grocery chain is offering specials on fresh Atlantic salmon fillets and portions, wild Alaskan salmon, Blue Circle frozen salmon portions, poke bowls, and other items, according to H-E-B Vice President of Seafood Jason Driskill. One salmon product featured on special in January was H‑E‑B Fish Market Atlantic Salmon Portions - 4 count for $20.00 each.

SNP and H-E-B are using various digital platforms, recipes and social media influencers to build awareness of seafood and grow sales “Ultimately, we want to increase consumers’ craving for seafood and encourage America to Fall in Love with Seafood,” said Sarah Crowley, SNP’s vice president of marketing and communications.

Fresh Thyme partnered with salmon supplier Camanchaca last year to lock in prices on farm-raised coho salmon and, in turn, offer discounts to shoppers. The retailer is offering discounts again this year, and will promote it at a “really good value” all throughout Lent, according to Resner.

Additionally, Fresh Thyme locked in its wild sockeye prices last year at a cost that is “better than past years,” Resner said. “We should see better retails this year than last,” he added.

Similarly, Jungle Jim’s ran “aggressive price points” on salmon during Thanksgiving week, showing the price per pound, but also the discount over normal pricing, according to Roerink. ”Additionally, shoppers could choose from different sources and cuts, also providing variety in price points.”

Last year, NSC reps handed out salmon samples at Whole Foods markets in Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, New York and Boston via 32 different promotions throughout the year.

“We also had a strong presence at Eataly throughout the year, both at the fish counter and on their restaurant menus,” Øen said.

Salmon in widely available in grocery stores both fresh and frozen, and if consumers shop around, they can get high quality salmon at reasonable prices compared to alternative proteins, Øen said.

Education on sustainability and nutrition fuel sales

When consumers consider protein options, there are several meat and poultry cuts that feature price points that seafood isn’t touching currently, Roerink noted. And shoppers’ lives have turned into a nonstop balancing act to balance budgets — “a balancing act in which consumers weigh price against nutrition, mood, convenience, variety, experience and more.”

“This means attractive price points are important, promotional visibility is important, but at the same time education about nutrition, sustainability and the promise of a great meal can help overcome the price point and price differential with options in the meat case,” she said.

To that end, many retailers are educating shoppers on the health benefits of salmon. For example, signage at Dorothy Lane Market refers to salmon as “very high in Omega 3”, as well as the cooking suggestion, “great with Cajun seasoning,” Roerink said.

Many retailers have leaned on health and dietitian programs to drive interest in fish and seafood items, Bushman noted. 

H.E. B., for example, has its “Fresh Approach to Wellness” program, while Hannaford’s sports “Eat your way to better health” and Wegman’s has “Feel your best.” Most are tied to local registered dietitians and nutritionists, health care and even hospital programs and some have chefs on staff who create recipes that live on their websites and are often amplified on social media, with in store signage and more, Bushman said.

It is important to continue to educate seafood counter employees, according to Øen.

“The people on the front line needs to be educated so that they can help with our messaging about the health benefits of getting enough seafood,” she said.

Salmon has often been a loss leader in an effort to drive traffic to the case, Bushman said, but Kvaroy’s price reflects the cost of production and the premium needed to farm salmon.

“It means that we do not see fluctuations in the market as other producers might,” she said.

At specialty retail stores, there is a “unique ability to charge a premium to their customers and share the provenance of the fish, the family story and the importance of supporting it,” Bushman said. 

“This specialty category represents a place where a customer can authentically have their food dollars match their values. We hope that as our products are better known in the market that this will be the driver that grows sales.”

This article is an excerpt from the February 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Salmon feature and more in the digital edition here.