Retail seafood volumes and dollar sales are down — a casualty of the inflationary era that refuses to relinquish its grip on the US economy.

But there are also huge opportunities for supermarkets that emphasize the nutritional, sustainability and meal solution benefits of seafood.

Those are among the conclusions of FMI – The Food Industry Association’s annual Power of Seafood report, which forecasts a bright future for retailers willing to get a little creative in their fresh seafood departments.

And it all starts with the eat-at-home trends that took deep root during the pandemic and continue to flourish in the current climate of higher food prices.

“While overall consumption levels have dropped, more consumers are enjoying seafood at home,” said Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for FMI. “Factors such as inflation-driven prices or seafood’s cost relative to other proteins are influential drivers.”

And as inflationary pressures decline, FMI expects to see more consumers return to seafood, especially if retailers offer easy ways to enjoy seafood “sustainably, easily, and healthfully,” Stein said.

A change of pace for home cooks

With the rise in home cooking, seafood has emerged as a popular choice for its taste and nutritional benefits, according to The Power of Seafood.

Home-cooked seafood now constitutes 59% of consumption, up from 53% last year, while restaurant-prepared seafood meals declined from 47% to 41%.

“As consumers eat more meals at home, home cooking of seafood is more common, and Americans are becoming more comfortable doing it,” according to FMI.

At the same time, 39% of seafood customers seek advice from the seafood counter for meal ideas, indicating growing interest in home seafood preparation.

“Retailers should leverage this trend by enticing consumers with specials, sampling, recipe ideas and highlighting seafood’s health benefits,” according to FMI.

Good for you, good for the planet

Consumer insights underscore the importance of nutrition and health in driving seafood consumption.

Two-thirds of seafood consumers (66%) prioritize nutrition and health, with frequent seafood consumers showing an even higher inclination (78%), according to the report.

That echoes across diverse demographics, with widespread acknowledgment of seafood’s health benefits.

Retailers can highlight the benefits of seafood as a heart-healthy choice, high-quality protein and source of beneficial Omega-3s, emphasizing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends consuming two servings of seafood weekly, FMI recommends.

In addition to nutrition, 74% of seafood shoppers value sustainability when choosing their primary seafood store, suggesting that retailers who address pricing concerns while offering a sustainable, quality product will cultivate loyal seafood consumers for years to come.

“This report illuminates the nuanced motivations behind Americans’ seafood consumption habits,” said Steve Markenson, vice president of research & insights for FMI. “While price remains a factor, it’s encouraging to see a strong preference for seafood even when cost barriers are removed. This speaks volumes about the intrinsic value consumers place on seafood’s nutritional benefits and underscores the importance of retailers prioritizing quality and sustainability to meet consumer expectations.”

A complex picture

Despite relatively flat prices for seafood in 2023, seafood unit sales are now back to 2019 levels, according to FMI.

And while many other food prices rose due to inflation, seafood dollar and unit sales were down in 2023 for the second year in a row.

Other departments around the grocery store were also down in units, but dollar sales grew in these departments as a result of inflation.

“These relatively more favorable prices are an opportunity for seafood,” according to the report. “Price is growing in importance among seafood consumers in their decision of where they shop for seafood. Once in-store, quality is still the number one factor in selecting seafood, but price has an increasing impact.”

Despite the lower prices, many consumers perceive seafood as being expensive, with some saying seafood is a luxury or an indulgence.

Cost-effective deli prepared seafood products like sushi performed better in 2023 than fresh and frozen seafood. Even with one to two percent decreases in costs in 2023, fresh and frozen seafood experienced decreases in unit sales.

“The perception of being a more cost-effective option helped grocery seafood keep dollar sales on par with 2022,” according to FMI.

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