It took poke a long time to migrate from its native Hawaii to the mainland U.S.
But now that it’s here, it’s here to stay — and it’s one of the hottest food trends out there, the grocery fresh perimeter being no exception.
One of the main dishes of Native Hawaiian cuisine, poke is a diced raw fish served as both an appetizer and a main dish. Aku and he’e are the traditional varieties, and common ingredients include yellowfin tuna, sea salt, soy sauce, inamona, sesame oil, limu seaweed and chili pepper.
There is no denying poke’s popularity. In 2018, it ranked second on online restaurant ordering platform GrubHub’s list of hottest foods (based on percentage gain in orders).
In fact, poke is one of the new foods gaining at the expense of some old favorites.
Soup and salad sales are down, according to Chicago-based market research firm Technomic, thanks to an increase in other healthy alternatives like poke bowls. Consumers, says Anne Mills, Technomic’s senior manager of consumer insights, now have a wider variety of healthy options to choose from than ever, and poke is one of the most popular of those options.
Poke bowls are one of the main drivers of what Nicolas Mendoza, the founder of Santa Fe, New Mexico-based OneForNeptune, calls a “seafood renaissance” in the U.S.
“One in five Americans — 65 million people — expressed a desire to eat more seafood in their diet if only it were a little more convenient and a little less confusing to do it,” Mendoza told Food Business News, a Supermarket Perimeter sister publication. “You’re going to continue to see new innovations and new ways food producers are finding to meet the desires of the market to include more seafood in their diets and overall more seafood at the center of the plate.”
Grocery perimeter suppliers ride the wave
Grocery retailers and their suppliers are among those riding the poke wave.
The Juneau-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, in conjunction with Chef Kathy Casey, recently developed an Alaska Aloha Poke Bowl, available to both retailers and restaurants to help them take advantage of the poke boom, says Emily Gisler, the institute’s domestic marketing coordinator.
Most recently, the bowl was featured in a cross-merchandising promotion with Kona beer.
Other poke bowl concoctions from the institute and Casey include Alaska Sockeye Salmon Poke and Alaska Crab Surimi bowls.
Poke, Gisler says, continues to be a popular menu item in retail and foodservice across the U.S.
“Poke featuring Alaska surimi seafood allows retailers to take advantage of the growth of prepared foods at the deli counter,” she says. “Poke appeals to consumers looking for healthier and tastier prepared options.”
Poke featuring Alaska surimi seafood in particular holds well, has a great profit margin and, because it’s not raw, has no food safety issues, Gisler says.
Suppliers including Fall River, Massachusetts-based Blount Fine Foods are tapping into the surging demand for poke with new products. In 2018, Blount introduced a poke bowl as one of its new line of noodle and rice bowls.
It easily outperformed the company’s sales expectations in its first six months, and Bob Sewall, Blount’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, expects continued growth, as Blount takes advantage of its customers’ longing not only for international flavors but convenience and snack items.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Hissho Sushi is of course best known for the sushi it sells in grocery instore prepared foods departments throughout the U.S.
But Hissho has also ventured into the poke category, with poke bowl varieties including Classic Hawaiian, Mango Salmon and Blazing Dragon.
Hissho’s poke begins with a base of its signature seaweed salad. Then chefs add diced spicy tuna tossed in sesame oil and finish it off with scallions.
Introduced in 2017, the line has been so successful, Hissho plans to introduce two new flavors later this year.
Retailers pick up their games
The newest store from Seattle-based chain Metropolitan Market, located in Sammanish, Washington, is big on innovation.
The first suburban store for Met Market, it’s 10,000 square feet larger than the average size of its other six stores and includes a coffee bar, a quick-service bakery and artisanal gelato.
Its retail foodservice options feature include a wide variety of cuisines — including a poke bar. The bar includes several fresh seafood varieties and toppings to build the ultimate poke bowl.
San Francisco-based Bi-Rite Market, meanwhile, offers poke bowls in its prepared foods to-go section that bear the store’s Bi-Rite label and are made on-site.
And since they were introduced in the sushi departments of Woodbury, Minnesota-based Kowalski’s Markets stores in 2014, poke bowls have enjoyed enormous growth, says Jenny Mahoney, deli director of the 11-store gourmet chain.
Variations on a theme
The Juneau-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute worked with Chef Kathy Casey to develop Alaska Sockeye Salmon Poke and Alaska Crab Surimi Poke bowl recipes. These recipes feature delicious dressings and a variety of flavor options and toppings that can be mixed and matched including:
· Aloha – diced pineapple, chopped cilantro, jalapenos and more with topping options like chopped toasted macadamia nuts, coconut milk and fresh lime
· Cool Cucumber – diced cucumber, avocado, Hijiki seaweed, fresh ginger and more
· Cha Cha – fresh lime juice, diced avocado, pico de gallo and more
· Sriracha Smack – chopped pickled onion, Sriracha hot sauce, shaved celery, fresh mango with toppings like crispy onions, shallots or garlic
· California Roll – with diced avocado, water chestnut, cucumber, pickled ginger and topping options like Wasabi Mayo Drizzle
· Korean BBQ – Gochujang sauce, honey, kim chee etc.