Salmon is one of the star performers of the fresh seafood case, and its star continues to rise.

From 2017 to 2018, salmon’s share of supermarket retail space increased from 18% to 19% of total seafood sales, according to the Tromso, Norway-based Norwegian Seafood Council.

That share should increase when this year’s final numbers are in, and rise again in 2020, says Egil Ove Sundheim, the council’s U.S. director.

The council sees salmon as a perfect “gateway food” to get Americans to eat more seafood. Two servings of fish per week is the government-sanctioned recommendation for the average American, but only one-third of consumers meet that goal.

Much of the increased demand for salmon, Sundheim says, can be traced to a significant shift in public perception in recent years.

“Consumers no longer think of salmon as something that they should only get at a restaurant,” he says. “They are gaining confidence in their kitchens. In fact, we’ve seen salmon transition from a luxurious, rare meal to a staple in consumer diets.”

Consumers, he adds, are more informed now than in previous years about salmon’s versatility in recipes and cuisines. They have a better handle on how to incorporate salmon into various meals and dayparts. And the seafood industry has responded to increased consumer need for flexibility by offering a variety of cuts and options, both at the seafood counter and in the frozen aisle.

“Seafood counters are beginning to allow consumers to choose the size of their salmon cut, offering better flexibility and the ability to lessen food waste,” Sundheim says. “They’re also able to increase value-added products at the counter. Conversely, the frozen aisle offers the convenience and flexibility that frozen meats provide for busy families.”


An easy introduction

Washington, D.C.-based Blue Circle Foods expects to see continued growth in its line of Happy Fish value-added products, quick-cooking small salmon patties that are cut into the shapes of fish, with just salt and pepper added.

The product is currently being sold in stores in five sales regions of Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market. In 2020, Blue Circle hopes to take Happy Fish nationwide, says Nina Damato, the company’s supply chain manager.

“We’re always trying to find new ways to introduce seafood into peoples’ diets, and innovating new products is key for us,” Damato says. “We’ve found that Happy Fish has gotten great traction, and we look forward to seeing it grow.” 

Happy Fish ship six to a 7.5 oz pack and typically retail at about $4.99, Damato says. That price point was chosen to be as “approachable” as possible to consumers who may not be entirely confident about buying seafood.

“People didn’t feel encumbered by it,” she says. “It’s not this huge amount of seafood you have to purchase. You can try it, become familiar with it. And it’s pure protein. We think it’s a pretty good value.”

Happy Fish is an easy concept for consumers to understand as soon as they see it, Damato says. “It’s just sort of a reinvented fish finger, so you can wrap your head around that and really see the potential. Adding it to salad or pasta, there are so many ways to prepare it. People really like that aspect of it.”

And because of its size, a Happy Fish cooks quickly, going from frozen to fresh in minutes, she adds. Consumers don’t have to think about thawing it in advance before cooking it.

Happy Fish are packed in a compostable box that uses both compostable materials and ink dyes. Innovative, eco-friendly packaging for other Blue Circle products will be a major focus in 2020, Damato says.

“Packaging for me is really interesting, and seeing how the industry innovates in that way will be exciting. We want to make sure people get right away that that’s what we’re after, to be a trusted, sustainable seafood source.” Having the right package, she says, can deliver that message instantly at point-of-sale. 


Breaking through online

Also new at Blue Circle, in November the company launched its online shop, which gives consumers around the country who might not have a brick-and-mortar option access to Blue Circle salmon and other products.

Damato admits that for many consumers, buying seafood online is something they may not be entirely comfortable with.

“Purchasing seafood online is still a new thing for a lot of folks,” she says. “All of ours is shipped frozen so it has a good shelf life and the cold chain is kept intact the whole time, guaranteeing the best quality possible.”

Whether it’s fresh, frozen, wild, farm-raised, education is key when it comes to effectively merchandising seafood, Damato says. “We try to do our best to communicate simple and straightforward messaging, keeping the facts at the forefront. Our key points are: no additives, antibiotics or preservatives, and traceability is of the utmost importance. We want people to feel like they’ve come to a trusted source.”


Variety and versatility

Salmon’s versatility lends itself to all cooking techniques and cuisines, Sundheim says.

What helps separate sustainably farmed Norwegian salmon from its competitors, he adds, is the ability to deliver a clean taste and texture that comes from a slow, natural growth process and exceptional regulations to ensure safety.

In U.S. grocery seafood departments, consumers can find Seafood from Norway’s salmon products in a variety of forms — from frozen to fresh and salmon filets to value-added salmon.

“We’re proud to offer a range of products to fit everyone’s needs,” Sundheim says. “While at the grocery store, shoppers should note that both farmed and wild salmon are safe, nutritious choices.”

Over the last few years, the industry has seen growth in the sales of prepackaged fresh seafood, he says. That trend is expanding the opportunities for sales and for the consumer to find selected products — like Norwegian salmon — at times when the seafood counter is not fully stocked, he adds. It’s also broadened the fresh seafood offering to retailers who do not have a fresh seafood counter.

“Both fresh and frozen portions are popular products at retail,” Sundheim says. “Prepackaged fresh salmon has expanded the market and we now see a strong growth in sales for this category. This has to do with both availability, convenience and the fact that Norwegian salmon is a very versatile product.”

Frozen portions, he adds, offer the consumer the opportunity to have individual portions available whenever they need. That ensures top quality at the same time, as the consumer can defrost only the amount needed, keeping food waste at a minimum.

Over the years, the seafood category has grown beyond the seafood counter, although most sales still come from behind the counter, Sundheim says.

Sales of prepacked seafood continue to trend up, Sundheim says. Popular choices include trays with salmon filets, he says.

“With the prepacked category picking up, salmon has been a category of seafood that has been put into the casing and is more available to customers,” Sundheim says. “In fact, more major supermarket retailers are initiating seafood concepts such as expanded prepackaged foods in the frozen aisle.”

Because of that change, consumers can pick the type of fish they want, which allows them to be more flexible with their selection. Consumers are no longer restricted by the hours the seafood counter happens to be open.

“The (salmon) product roster has changed in recent years to shift from a behind-the-counter selection to prepackaged and a wider variety of frozen options,” Sundheim says. “We see that the sales in the prepackaged category has the strongest growth in US retail, so this is a category to watch out for.”


Telling the story, “from fjord to fork”

For sustainability-conscious consumers, Seafood from Norway is able “to tell the whole story,” Sundheim says.

Research indicates that there is a general threshold of quality that consumers expect. Foods from certain regions, for example, are perceived as being safer than food from other regions. Many Americans who live far from seafood sources don’t have easy access to local product. They know that these products are going to have to travel from the point of origin to their landlocked state.

“Because of this, there’s a lot of need to be transparent about the background of the fish to ease customers’ minds,” Sundheim says.

That’s where Seafood from Norway shines, he says. The group works with distributors and retailers to ensure they understand the benefits of communicating the Norwegian origin and have programs in place to help them do so.

“Norway sets the global standard for healthy seafood as a result of its meticulous aquaculture and sustainability efforts, variety, unique geographic and oceanic benefits, and dedication to providing the highest quality, most flavorful seafood,” he says. “From fjord to fork, we know that origin matters, and that’s why we take so much pride in our products.”

Today’s consumers, Sundheim says, are more aware about where their food is being produced than ever before. They want to know all about the food’s journey. As a result, many food companies — salmon shippers included — are becoming more transparent about their practices and the origin of their food.

“The desire to know about where the food comes from is becoming more popular with seafood as well,” Sundheim says. “Point of origin is also a big topic for seafood. Consumers want to ensure that the seafood they’re purchasing in the grocery store is sustainable and from a reputable place. Grocery retailers have a tremendous opportunity to showcase where, how and why a food is made.”


Merchandising musts

There’s a definite need to do more salmon merchandising at retail, Sundheim says. One idea to best merchandise salmon, he says, is to make suggestions at the point of sale on cooking methods and ways to make simple meals with the product.

“By showcasing these different application methods, we are better able to tie salmon into consumers’ everyday diets,” he says. “There’s a misconception that salmon has a specific set of recipes, but what consumers don’t know is that salmon can be an easy substitute for any protein.”

For example, salmon is easy to add to any pasta dish and can be swapped in for any recipe that features chicken. Retailers should enable consumers to use some of the knowledge they have and make these connections in their minds.

In an ideal world, Sundheim says, consumers would have one go-to salmon recipe without having to be hesitant about making it. “Seafood from Norway wants to be a go-to source of protein because we feel that this would make a major difference for consumers. It’s not about having a wide array of fish to choose from, but building confidence in the consumer to reach for salmon as a go-to protein.”

As consumers start to think about new ways to eat salmon, they’re bringing products not commonly associated with salmon together, Sundheim adds. These cross-merchandising opportunities range from items such as spices and oils, to items that come on the side such as starches and vegetables, to bases such as rice, tortillas and other options.

“Consumers are becoming more creative in the kitchen, so we want to make sure that we are helping to spark their creativity.”

People often think of salmon as a safe, first fish to try if they’re not familiar with seafood, he says. It’s visible in a variety of recipe applications, and consumers now have the ability to incorporate salmon into all meals. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner have seen an increase in the number of salmon recipes on restaurant menus and online databases,” Sundheim says.