KANSAS CITY - Demand for trout at grocery retail has remained steady in recent years, said Peter Fritsch, president of Palmyra, Wis.-based Rushing Waters Fisheries.

COVID has created more meal opportunities at home, and that has had a positive effect on sales in general, he said.

“I still hear people almost acting surprised after having trout for the first time in a while and enjoying it so much.  A common theme is they are stuck in the salmon rut and were amazed by the trout taste.”

As a result, Fritsch is optimistic that after the pandemic recedes, demand for trout will remain above pre-pandemic levels.

Trout hasn’t been the only beneficiary, Fritsch said: consumer acceptance of seafood has increased across the board at retail in the past year.

“For the first time in many situations, people bought, prepared and consumed their own seafood and learned that it is actually easy to prepare,” he said.

When it comes to packaging, Rushing Waters is seeing strong demand for its new frozen retail packs, which Fritsch calls “very consumer-friendly.”

Anne-Kristine Øen, US director of the Norwegian Seafood Council, reported increased demand for Norwegian fjord trout.

In 2020, that could have been driven by slightly lower prices, she said. But in 2021, even with prices returning to more historically normal levels, demand has still been high.

Demand is highest in the fresh trout category, she said, although the amount of smoked trout sold has also increased.

Øen said that, according to the Norwegian Seafood Council’s annual Seafood Consumer Insight survey of US consumers, 20% prefer trout that comes from Norway.

“Increased sales at retail have been a result of consumers stocking up on family favorites and trends to serve more balanced meals,” she said. “Norway’s total seafood export to the U.S. increased 7% in 2020, despite logistics challenges due to the pandemic.”

Lasting trends

Looking ahead, some trends benefiting retail trout consumption that have been accelerated by the pandemic will likely continue after things get back to normal, Øen said.

“Consumers have transitioned to cooking more at home amid the pandemic, and they have been more adventurous in their recipes,” she said. “They’ve experimented with flavor, texture and types of cuisine. We have also seen an increase in the amount of frozen foods consumers are purchasing; this is especially true with frozen seafood.”

Consumers have discovered that frozen foods are a great go-to and help reduce food waste, and fish fits into their meal plan as an easy meal, she added. Frozen portions offer consumers the opportunity to have individual portions available whenever they need, and it also helps ensure top quality, as the consumer can choose to defrost only the amount needed, keeping food waste at a minimum.

“We anticipate these trends to continue moving forward,” Øen said.

In recent years,   fjord trout has grown in popularity due to its delicate qualities and different flavor from other trout, Øen said. Norwegian fjord trout is perfect for consumers’ favorite dishes, she said — an easy protein substitute for consumers to consider at the grocery store.

Before the pandemic, Øen said, restaurants were the main source of seafood for many Americans. Now, with more cooking at home, they’re more educated — about, for instance, fjord trout’s versatility in recipes and cuisines.

Many have also learned more about the story behind Norwegian fjord trout. Where the Atlantic Ocean meets Norwegian mountains, glacial waters mix with the sea to create the perfect environment for trout, Øen  said.

“Combined with its exceptional growth rate, this makes the fjord trout an ideal fish for farming. The cold, clear and low-saline environment is the best place in the world to farm this nutritious and delicious fish.”

Merchandising 101

Shoppers today want a lot from their food. They want to buy products that are tasty, nutritious, sustainably sourced and fool-proof to prepare.

The Norwegian Seafood Council offers its retail partners a host of resources and tools to boost trout sales in the seafood department.

Among the most important things to keep in mind when merchandising trout include:

  • Presentation. Place the recipes at eye level or an easy place for shoppers to see when shopping. And alert your staff that the recipe cards are available and train staff to hand the cards to shoppers or point shoppers toward them.
  • Level Up. Near the seafood counter, display a shopping basket of all the nonperishable ingredients the recipe requires for shoppers to visualize what they’ll need to purchase. With simple recipes, create a display for shoppers to put all the ingredients in their cart.
  • Help online shoppers meal plan. Provide the option for shoppers to click on a delicious seafood recipe and easily order all ingredients online.
  • Cross-Promote. If a shopper decides against the purchase of fresh fish, recommend looking at fish in the frozen section to see if it meets the shoppers’ needs better.
  • Don’t forget the frozen section. Place a display or recipes in a holder near the frozen food section, too.
  • Knowledge. Many shoppers have questions about seafood, including questions about different species, preparation methods, storage practices, flavor profile and even how it is produced. Ensure your staff members are knowledgeable about Norwegian seafood to help consumers.
  • When it comes to seafood selection, origin matters. If you’re marketing Norwegian fjord trout, for instance, remind your staff to share how seafood from Norway is produced in clear, cold waters by people who have been producing seafood for hundreds of years.