Tilapia remains a solid top 10 category performer when it comes to retail consumption and sales, and it’s not uncommon to see it in the top 5, says Bob Tate, national sales manager for Miami-based Aquabest Seafood LLC.
A glut of frozen tilapia from China has hurt the fresh market in the U.S., Tate says. “You have two consumers — a frozen consumer that usually buys on price and another consumer who doesn’t mind paying more for fresh. Retailers still have tilapia at $5.99-7.99 (per pound).”
In today’s retail marketplace, variety is key, Tate says — thriving departments have a number of items in both tray packs (self-service) and in the full-service case.
One thing tilapia has going for it is its convenience. “Tilapia usually takes 8 to 10 minutes to cook, and I think that’s a convenience for the consumer.”
One thing that separates Aquabest from some of its competitors is a commitment to cut to order, Tate says. “We don’t have any inventory left over at the end of the day,” he says. “You order the week before, it’s cut the day before, shipped and it has a 14-day shelf life.”
Aquabest only sources product raised in fresh-water reservoirs, which helps guarantee no off-flavor taste.
When it comes to marketing tilapia, it’s hard to get much traction with branding. If someone has a cheap price, the retailer is going to buy it and push it through the system. But brand loyalty can still be found in the tilapia market, Tate says. Two or three pound bags of frozen tilapia sold at Walmart have a following, for instance. And Tate says that retailers can build brand loyalty on the fresh side if they can consistently deliver quality.
With consumers indifferent to branding, the key to success, Tate says, is to focus on the supplier-retailer relationship. “If you have your program and your concept, the commitment to quality and trim and the relationship, that’s where you have your customer,” he says. “Company loyalty is out there because of the relationship.”
One way Aquabest differentiates itself is with flavor — “there is a difference between Chinese and fresh in terms of flavor.” In addition, Aquabest tilapia is shipped deep-skin, unless most Chinese product, which has a shallow skin. Deep-skin is widely regarded as superior in quality