KANSAS CITY, MO. - Cod and pollock are among the tried-and-true workhorses of the retail seafood world. But that doesn’t mean producers can’t come up with new and interesting ways of presenting and marketing them.

Washington, D.C.-based Blue Circle Foods is expanding its popular Happy Fish program to include product made with cod, said Nina Damato, the company’s product director.

Happy Fish launched first with salmon. Happy Fish cod began rolling out at Target stores this spring and will continue throughout the year. Like Happy Fish Salmon, Happy Fish Cod ships in a 7.5 oz pack, six to a pack.

“It was a pretty easy decision,” Damato said. “We wanted to offer another species for kids to enjoy, and cod is a great, clean alternative.”

Cod’s simple flavor profile makes it a good fit for kids, particularly those who may not be overly keen on seafood in general, Damato added.

Blue Circle sees Happy Fish cod as a healthier alternative to fish sticks and other frozen, processed fish made with cod and other white fish varieties. The company believes it’s the only such option on the market.

“This is really a chance to showcase a white fish that’s all protein, with no fillers or binders,” she said.

Blue Circle ships other fresh and frozen cod products under its Blue Circle label. And at Whole Foods Market stores across the U.S., Blue Circle cod ships under the Changing Seas brand.

Happy Fish salmon also sells at Whole Foods stores, and Blue Circle hopes to add Happy Fish cod at the retailer, too, Damato said.

Seattle-based Trident Seafoods Corp. has teamed with professional chef/food industry personality Dan Churchill to promote its Wild Alaska Pollock.

“Dan Churchill couldn’t be a better fit for Wild Alaska Pollock and the Trident brand, said John Salle, the company’s senior vice president of marketing and Innovation. He’s focused on health and wellness and has the ambition to make it simple, fun and taste really good.”

Churchill’s drive and commitment to this lifestyle, Salle added, make him a perfect fit for Trident. Churchill couldn’t agree more.

"The partnership with Wild Alaska Pollock is a great fit for me because as a chef I realize how committed we must all be to sustainability,” Churchill said. “Especially in light of everything that is happening in the world today with regard to scarcity of many proteins and the environmental toll of overfishing certain types of fish, Wild Alaska Pollock is a standout on so many levels.”

The team behind Wild Alaska Pollock provides many educational resources to its customers and community, which is invaluable, Churchill said. Perhaps most important, Trident pollock is tasty, versatile, and nutritious.

“That’s a win-win for me, both in my home kitchen and in the restaurant,” he added. “At the heart of it, the reason I am working with Wild Alaska Pollock is that it is a part of my mission to change the world through food."

Many forms, many applications

Whole fillets, breaded fillets and fish sticks and burgers are among the most popular forms of wild Alaska cod and pollock sold at US grocers, said Megan Rider, domestic marketing director for the Juneau-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI).

Wild Alaska cod can also often be found at the fresh counter or in the seafood case in fillets, and wild Alaska pollock is commonly processed into surimi, which is used as a main ingredient in many ready-to-eat products, like sushi and other seafood snacks from the prepared case.

Both species are also processed into fish oil supplements, prized for their omega-3 content.

“The product mix has expanded in recent years, as demand for seafood in general has increased due to its popularity within a number of trending eating styles,” Rider said. “Along with ketogenic, Mediterranean, flexitarian diets and more, ever-popular dishes like fish tacos have driven an increase in consumption and growing product offering.”

One exciting, and relatively new, product, is protein noodles made with wild Alaska pollock, which are a high protein, low carb alternative to grain-based noodles — perfect for the growing number of consumers experimenting with low carb or ketogenic diets, or who are just looking for variety from pasta alternatives.

In addition, wild Alaska pollock fillets and smaller cuts can now be found in the freezer case and make a great addition to a stir fry or pasta.

“Frozen foods have been experiencing a revival in the past year, as consumer perception shifts toward the understanding that frozen foods are equally nutritious to their fresh counterparts,” Rider said.

In fact, wild and sustainable Alaska cod and pollock are typically flash frozen and processed at sea, right on the fishing ships, to lock in nutrients and maintain quality.

According to Mintel, in its Fish and Shellfish – US, November 2018 report, frozen is expected to be the fastest-growing segment between 2018-2023.

“That will likely be even higher in light of recent changes to the retail landscape, with consumers increasingly looking for frozen and shelf-stable protein sources in order to limit trips to the grocery store.”

Soaring demand

Retail demand for fresh and frozen cod has shot up since the outbreak of the coronavirus and could lead to permanent gains once the pandemic has finally passed, Damato said.

“People are cooking more and more at home, and they’re looking for alternative products,” she said. “Cod is just a great option. It’s very versatile, and it’s an MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) cod, so it’s got a great sustainability story.”

Blue Circle cod is guaranteed wild and sustainable, which makes it a product people feel good about purchasing, Damato said. And compared to many other seafood options, it’s very affordable.

The coronavirus-caused shift to online grocery shopping for many consumers could lead to permanent shift, and Blue Circle will be ready, particularly when it comes to packaging, Damato said.

“The market is slowly adapting and shifting to the new and growing way of purchasing more and more products online, with grocery delivery options,” she said. “It definitely changes the consumer experience. You’re not ordering from the fresh case if you’re purchasing online.”

And even after the pandemic passes, many consumers who got used to ordering online will find that they prefer it, and will switch to it full-time, Damato predicted.

That means more packaging option, and Blue Circle is currently looking at a lot of different packaging solutions, Damato said. One is skin packs, where a clear film is almost molded to the product it covers.

“We see skin packs as a great alternative,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way for the consumer to see the product, and it’s hygienically a great option. We already do some in seafood, and we see it as definitely growing as a packaging alternative.”

Packaged product has its advantages over product from the case, Damato said. It offers grab-and-go convenience, the price is labeled on the package so there’s not sticker shock at checkout and it transports well.

In addition to cod, Blue Circle sells Icelandic haddock at U.S. retailers.

A product for every palate

The newest item on that list is Trident’s 10g Protein Noodles are our newest item, which are made from Wild Alaska Pollock and provide those 1O grams of protein in every serving.

“Fully cooked and ready to go, they’re a versatile, flavor-neutral alternative to high-carb noodles,” Salle said.

In recent years Trident has been focused on creating new, innovative forms of Wild Alaska Pollock.   As one of the leading companies in Wild Alaska Pollock catching and processing, the company is confident that its product is the highest quality in the market.

“As we move forward, we’re looking at Wild Alaska Pollock as the new premiere protein in seafood and beyond. Keep an eye out for new and innovative products as we launch into new categories that will break boundaries outside traditional fillet-based value added products.”

Trident’s cod and pollock product lineup offers something for everybody:

  • PubHouse Battered Cod
  • Beer Battered Cod
  • Panko Breaded Cod
  • The Ultimate Fish Stick
  • Wild Alaska Pollock Burgers
  • Wild Alaska Pollock Portions
  • Wild Alaska Pollock Skillet Cuts
  • 10g Protein Noodles
  • Wild Alaska Pollock Three Cheese Crusted
  • Wild Alaska Pollock Loaded Baked Potato Crusted

With pollock, Trident feels like it’s “at the beginning of something big,” Salle said. Demand is growing, and the company is seeing are new placements at retail for both fillets and value-added items.

Pollock fillets tend to be smaller than those of their cod cousins, so they’re ideal for a single serving and for families, which makes them a great value in the market.

Cod demand, meanwhile, remains consistent for Trident.

“It’s one the oldest proteins in the market, and some countries were basically built on cod, so it has been in the ubiquity stage for quite some time.”

In terms of trends, Trident has been making strides in areas like adding white fish varieties to retail prepared food hot bars and providing its customers with custom repack options.

“It’s our goal to make sure we are giving the customer all the information up front as well by utilizing point of sale marketing and making information on the species readily available as consumers explore new seafood items,” Salle added.

Wild Alaska pollock is well positioned at retail for consumers who are looking for a nutritious, delicious fish that is quick to cook and incredibly versatile, said Craig Morris, CEO of the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers. 

“We know more consumers than ever before are cooking at home and we are so excited for them to continue trying and buying this amazing fish in all its forms,” he said. “GAPP has partnered with chefs and other food enthusiasts to create new and exciting recipes for consumers looking to add some Wild Alaska Pollock to their covid cuisine.”

Less meat, more fish

According to a 2019 Datassential report released, one in three consumers are limiting meat consumption, and many of them are increasing their seafood consumption as a result.

With such drastic changes to the foodservice and retail landscape in recent months, along with a heightened demand for frozen and shelf-stable protein sources, ASMI is seeing unprecedented demand for familiar, easy-to-work-with seafood species like Alaska cod and wild Alaska pollock products.

A March 2020 market analysis conducted by the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP) showed wild Alaska pollock consumption jumped by 38% in 2019.

As some consumers have more time at home and are increasing their overall seafood consumption, they’re experimenting with more adventurous cooking techniques and more species increasing demand for products like cod or wild Alaska pollock fillets, Rider said.

In terms of packaging, skin pack products are becoming more common, a trend which will likely increase in the new retail landscape.

“Alaskan producers are continuing to adapt to changes in the supply chain in order to meet increased demand at retail for the growing number of consumers eating wild Alaska pollock and cod at home.”

Additionally, the Alaska seafood industry works with retailers to help educate shoppers on the best and easiest ways to prepare seafood. Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI)’s Cook it Frozen campaign provides retailers with recipes, how-to videos and other materials to educate the masses of consumers now cooking more often at home on how to prepare seafood directly from frozen, for delicious meals in a matter of minutes.

“Now is the time more than ever for consumers to support domestic seafood providers,” Rider said. “Alaska harvests more wild-caught seafood than all other states combined, and all seafood out of Alaska is guaranteed wild and sustainable.”

The Alaska seafood industry employs nearly 60,000 workers, contributing $5.6 billion in annual economic output.

This story is from the June 2020 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. To view the full magazine, click here.