Global supply chain issues are affecting supplies of some crustaceans sold in US grocery stores, and driving some prices up, but consumers seem willing to pay extra for their “must have” shrimp, crab, lobster and other products.
Bensenville, Ill.-based Fortune Fish & Gourmet expects to have a full line of crustacean offerings this holiday season, though things are a little different this year due to the supply chain issues, said Keane Amdahl, a Fortune marketing director.
“Red king crab availability is very tight, so look for more snow crab or even golden king crab in its place,” he said. “With the holidays approaching, be mindful of supply issues and be open to some new ideas or items if availability is tight on specific items. There's a lot of great stuff out there.”
Shellfish is a popular seafood category, and it continues to especially popular around the holiday times, Amdahl said. Crab, lobster, shrimp, and oysters all play a big role in celebratory traditions, and it's “always fun to be a part of that,” he said.
The supply crunch means that availability on certain items will continue to be a lot tighter, driving prices up, Amdahl said. But so far, consumers have been fairly accepting of that fact.
“Because these are largely celebration items right now, people are okay spending a little more to try and treat themselves and their friends and families for the holidays,” he said.
Shrimp is far and away the best-selling seafood item in the United States, and Amdahl doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
Among the highlights in the shrimp category for Fortune is a needle-deveined cooked 16/20 cocktail shrimp product, sold under the company’s Coastal Seafoods brand.
“People absolutely love it,” Amdahl said. “All too often, pre-cooked shrimp doesn't have a lot of flavor, but these are so clean and flavorful that they really are a treat.”
Another seasonal favorite for Fortune’s customers is stone crab, and the company expects continued strong demand for that.
Holidays or no holidays, demand for all kinds of crustaceans continues to go up, and their status as higher-end products should help to insulate them from customer and consumer sticker shock, Amdahl said.
“People love their crustaceans, and most seem to understand there's a premium on some of these items right now, but so far that hasn't been a massive deterrent. The perception is that these items are often expected to come with a higher price tag anyway, so people are generally happy to pay a little more so long as they know the quality is still there.”
When it comes to trends, value-added is something Fortune always has its eye on, Amdahl said. Ease of consumer use and access are top of mind for the company, whose new line of Coastal Seafoods Take & Bake Entrees — Shrimp & Grits and Crab Mac & Cheese are the two crustacean entries in the line — is the latest example of its commitment to value-added.
Norwegian exports to US increase
Despite the logistics headaches that are slowing shipments of foods worldwide, US retailers can expect to have volumes of a variety of crustacean products from Norwegian fisheries, including king crab, coldwater prawns, brown crab and Norway lobster, said Anne-Kristine Øen, the US Director for the Norwegian Seafood Council.
One variety, however — snow crabs — will not ship until 2022, as the quota is fished up. But new-season product should be available from the Barents Sea beginning in January.
Compensating for that temporary shortage, however, will be large volumes of other products.
“The shrimp catch this year has hit a record high, and there is a significant supply of high-quality, peeled, frozen shrimp available,” Øen said.
Red king crab that will be available both live and frozen, and the 2022 quota for red king crab has been set and will enable continuous supply, she said. Quota estimates for Norwegian snow and king crab for 2022 have not been released yet.
Sales of Norwegian shellfish should continue their years-long climb in 2022, Øen said. From 2011 to 2020, the export value of Norwegian shellfish increased 55%, and in the first 9 months of this year, the export value of shellfish surpassed 2020 numbers and is on pace to hit a record high.
The growth has come from nearly all species, specifically brown crab, snow crab, king crab and shrimp. While shrimp has been a traditional top performer, more recently, Norway is seeing significant growth in king crab and snow crab, both of which have experienced growth of more than 60% since 2015.
A key driver of this growth, Øen said, is increased available quotas for both king and snow crab. Norwegian fisheries started catching and exporting snow crab in 2015. Exports have been growing rapidly, with US imports growing 63% in the last six years.
“This year, the demand for snow crab and king crab has hit a record high.”
Norwegian red king crab is available in the United States year-round. Fishing for king crab in Norway happens with small vessels along the coast, not “factory style,” Øen said.
“All crabs are sorted by hand. Norwegian red king crab grows slowly in cold, clear waters and is harvested with respect and care by local fishermen.”
There is a demand for both live and frozen red king crab in the United States, and the Norwegian industry is seeing an increase in the demand for live product, Øen said. But the current logistics problems, which have driven many transportation costs up, will likely mean that orders for the less expensive frozen product will be higher.
Lobster makes up a smaller share of Norwegian shellfish exports, but production has been growing in recent years. The value of the category in the United States almost triples from 2015 to 2020.
Throughout COVID, Norway has a seen a growing demand for premium shellfish products at retail, Øen said.
“People have spent more in retail as restaurants have been closed, and they have gained new abilities to cook seafood. In addition, many Norwegian shellfish are nearly ready made and require limited additional cooking, so it’s a perfect choice.”
And even as restaurant demand picks up again, Øen is optimistic that increased quotas in Norwegian fisheries will help producers meet demand from both foodservice and retail in the coming years.
Growth of meal kits, home delivery and e-commerce has also benefitted Norwegian shellfish, she added. And Norwegian producers are keeping on top of another key trend: a greater focus on live exports of shellfish. Shippers increasingly are offering both pre-cooked and raw frozen king crab in addition to live crab.