After a dismal start to the year for fresh seafood sales, retailers have an opportunity to rebound this summer by promoting fresh seafood for grilling, holidays such as Father’s Day and the Fourth of July, and more.

While the seafood industry has realized a rough couple of years with pricing challenges, said Amy Dukes, head of retail marketing for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), the industry could see positive movement during the summer months.

“We expect to see sales pick back up this summer as inflation eases, and people continue to prioritize food that is both good for them and tastes good,” Dukes said. “Sales and promotions are the strongest purchase driver for seafood and will continue through this summer as shoppers balance value and taste.”

Additionally, seafood demand is rising. More than half (54%) of Americans eat more seafood now than they did two years ago, Dukes noted, and 74% of consumers wish they ate seafood more than they already do.

Wild and farmed salmon will likely be top sellers this summer, along with shrimp.

“Salmon will be most retailers’ number one summer sales item, with wild and farmed selling well,” said Chuck Anderson, vice president of operations/partner for Dallas, Texas-based Certified Quality Foods, which helps retailers and distributors measure quality seafood.

“During the summer, our biggest sellers at Gelson’s are the salmon fillets,” said Fernando Moreno, director of meat and seafood operations for Encino, Calif.-based Gelson’s. The retailer offers farm-raised Atlantic salmon, Scottish salmon, and king salmon, as well as seasonal wild caught salmon. This summer, Gelson’s will promote its “Salmon LollyPops,” salmon kabobs as well as fresh wild salmon offerings — “if the season materializes as we hope,” Moreno said.

If wild salmon is in short supply this summer, Gelson’s will sell more of “what we are best known for throughout the year,” Moreno said, including its farm raised Atlantic and Scottish salmon and Big Glory Bay® farm raised king salmon.

“Additionally, we can also bring in our off-season previously frozen wild caught king salmon fillets to cater to our customers looking for a wild caught offering,” Moreno said.

“Salmon is a year-around powerhouse and certainly does well during grilling season as well,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics.

Summer staples

On average, Americans grill around 13 times between Memorial and Labor Day, and those occasions tend to be dominated by meat, Roerink said. However, grocery stores have done a great job educating consumers about the ease of preparing salmon on the grill right alongside burgers, hot dogs and chicken, she said.

“In some cases, salmon is cross merchandised with cedar planks, or already presented on a cedar plank, ready for grilling,” Roerink said. “Additionally, we see the emergence of all things kabob — from salmon to shrimp — often mixed with a variety of veggies or different marinates. These grill-ready solutions presented as part of a set will help remind shoppers to add seafood to the mix.”

HEB stores also highlight cedar plank salmon in the summer, along with cedar plank trout, said Jason Driskill, vice president of seafood. He also recommends grocers carry shrimp skewers, bacon-wrapped scallops, shrimp poppers, marinated and dry rubbed fish — “plenty of options to suit personal preferences” — salmon burgers and lobster tails. Tuna, halibut, swordfish and salmon steaks will also likely preform well. Grilled mahi, tilapia and shrimp can be used for fish tacos, Driskill added.

Gelson’s plans to feature shrimp often throughout the summer, particularly Del Pacifico wild-caught Blue Mexican Shrimp, which is very popular with shoppers who use it for shrimp skewers, shrimp ceviche salads, and other dishes, Moreno said.

Retailers will promote jumbo or colossal shrimp for grilling throughout the summer, as well as offer small grab and go shrimp and crab cocktail products, Anderson said.

Any firm meat fish — including mahi, swordfish, tuna and cobia — good candidates for summer promotions, Anderson said.

Since Gelson’s stores are in “a big grilling market,” Moreno said, its fresh wild-caught swordfish steaks, ahi tuna steaks, and halibut fillets realize an uptick in sales during the summer.

“Our customers love entertaining their friends and family by grilling these items,” he said.

In addition to popular species such as salmon and shrimp, retailers can promote underutilized species this summer. Those items can appeal both to regular seafood shoppers looking for something different and price-conscious customers seeking a value.

“Lesser-known species are a great way to increase consumption from current heavy consumers,” Roerink said, noting that 45% of seafood is bought by 10% of seafood consumers. “These are the people who love seafood, are comfortable preparing it and love variety.”

Some retailers promote underutilized species via their loyalty programs and some include recipes, information about the flavor and texture profile, preparation tips and the origin. Some retailers also hold “Friday,” in which they highlight a different seafood item or application, Roerink said. Driskill said that grilled Pacific Northwest rockfish or barramundi can be promoted for both center of the plate options and as an ingredient in dishes such as fish tacos.

In Texas, fillets of farmed hybrid stripe bass, farmed redfish, or other equivalent species with durable skin/scales are promoted to be grilled on the “shell”, skin-side down on the grill.

“Some leave the tail on for added presentation,” Driskill said.

Value-added options are a great way for retailers to promote lesser-known species, especially throughout the summer, when shoppers are looking for quick and easy meals.

Retailers can tout fish taco mix using Alaska rockfish, miso-glazed Alaska sablefish or seasoned wild Alaska halibut skewers for grilling — especially if offered with simple cooking instructions via recipe cards and knowledgeable seafood department staff, she suggested.

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