Innovative merchandising techniques and effective vacuum and sustainable packaging have contributed to fresh seafood’s heyday over the past two years.  

In fact, fresh seafood sales rose 4% compared to 2020 and 30.8% versus 2019, reaching $7.1 billion, according to a recent report from IRI and 210 Analytics. Both fresh and frozen seafood set sales records last year, bolstered by increasing demand and inflation, according to Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics.  

While more shoppers are eating seafood meals at home, they are tired of planning what’s for lunch, dinner and the holidays and cooking more meals than they did before.   

To address the “fatigue” in the marketplace, Roerink and others note that several retailers are leveraging packaging innovation to spur new interest and sales. Plus, they are better communicating seafood’s sustainability and traceability via QR codes and other methods.  

An HEB store recently displayed a convenient lunch portion package with angel hair pasta, salmon, and vegetables, ready for the microwave or oven, Roerink said. The $5 combo meal is a “similar price point — if not less — than shoppers would pay for a sub sandwich.”  

Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix also does a great job merchandising a variety of ready-to-heat meals in oven-ready packages, according to Roerink. Some highlight the seafood alone, such as Crab-Stuffed Tilapia, while others include a full meal with seafood, a side, and a vegetable.  

“Overall space for seafood is limited. Therefore we work to maximize the space that we have with entrées merchandised in the service case and meals in the grab-and-go case,” said Guy Pizzuti, business development director, seafood, for Publix.  

Publix executives continue to evaluate the optimum location for ready-to-cook displays and are working on adjustments to its service case standards, according to Pizzuti.  

Roerink has also noticed more examples of seafood integration when grilling, offering salmon kebabs instead of just chicken, beef or vegetable kebabs. 

“By reminding shoppers that salmon and other seafood works for every appliance and every consumption occasion, retailers have the opportunity to increase household penetration and purchase frequency.” 

Suppliers and retailers are working together more often to create ready-to-eat (RTE) and ready-to-cook (RTC) grab-and-go items “as the demand has not slowed,” said Anne-Kristine Øen, director, USA, at the Norwegian Seafood Council. “By collaborating, suppliers can focus on exactly what the operators’ needs are for their customers and streamline the innovation process, bringing fresh new craveable options faster than ever,” she said.  


Retailers’ sustainability, traceability initiatives highlighted 

 Grocers have also stepped up how they communicate seafood sustainability and traceability in their merchandising techniques.  

Some Albertson’s Star Market banner and Wegmans stores display videos of producers talking about where and how they fish in the seafood department, according to Roerink.  

And Publix effectively communicates its affiliation with the Ocean Disclosure Project. 

“Our sustainable and responsible logos along with our sustainability website do a great job in communicating our commitment to sustainable seafood,” Pizzuti said.  

Many retailers are also utilizing QR codes on seafood packages, allowing consumers to use their smartphones to find out where the product came from, the seafood item’s nutritional properties, recipes, and other information, Roerink noted.   

“For most people, having a smartphone in our pocket allows us to more frequently use QR codes — one of the best methods for supplying a constant stream of new ideas and unlimited amounts of seafood knowledge at the tip of your fingers,” Øen explained. “By having a QR code stamped on every seafood package or on a safety seal on a takeaway dish, we can speak to the people and track what information is getting the most traction and make sure the information keeps coming.”    

This year, the NSC will step up its use of QR codes, allowing customers to “find an array of information” when scanning codes on NSC products. Shoppers will be able to trace the origin of the fish, read stories of the fishermen/women who raised the fish, and find recipes and tips on the best ways to cook the fish.  

“Providing easy-to-follow recipes will make customers more at ease and confident when heading to the seafood counter,” Øen said. Plus, the origin of seafood matters to an increasing amount of customers, she added.  

Origin labeling and eco-labeling are “great ways to effectively communicate with your customers,” Øen said.  

However, consumers are flooded with “sustainable” stories, which “can confuse even the most up to date consumer, so having third party verified labels can help ease the mind of the conscientious seafood shopper,” Øen noted. “This is an area where we are expecting a lot of development by individual retailers going forward. The consumer needs labeling that is reliable and at the same time easy to understand.”   

While many retailers call out their sustainability efforts in merchandising, Roerink recommended they ensure that consumers “fully understand what that means — not in industry terms, but in consumer-friendly language.”