After a strong showing in 2022 — salmon was the lone fresh seafood species to increase in sales over the past few months — sales are expected to continue to grow this year.

Overall fresh salmon sales grew 4% to $180 million for the four weeks ending Nov. 27, according to IRI and 210 Analytics, while smoked salmon sales grew 1.6%. At the same time, overall fresh seafood sales declined 1.7% to $489 million — lower than in previous months — while inflation in the overall category rose 2.9%.

Value-added salmon sales, in particular, are shoring up sales in the overall category, according to Chris DuBois, executive vice president, Americas Protein Practice at IRI.

For the four weeks ending Nov. 6, 2022, value-added salmon sales soared 6.7% while volume spiked 55%, compared to November 2021. Meanwhile, non-value added fresh salmon sales rose 4.8% while volume fell 3.7%.

“Value add’s growth over the last four weeks was directly responsible for the overall volume growth for salmon. Without value added items, salmon growth may have been negative, but it is hard to tell what people would have done if no value added items were available,” DuBois said.

“Value added is convenient, and convenience is always in great demand,” said Anne-Kristine Oen, director-USA for the Norwegian Seafood Council.

Publix realized double-digit growth in value-added salmon sales in 2021, primarily driven by simple entrée options such as marinated/seasoned salmon that allows the customer to select their sides, said Publix Business Development Director of Seafood Guy Pizzuti.

Giant Eagle has also realized success with value-added items from Seattle, WA-based Orca Bay Foods, such as garlic parmesan salmon portions and Honey Jalapeno salmon.

H-E-B offers a wide variety of unique salmon meals and apps such as Meal Simple Korean BBQ Salmon Skewers and Meal Simple Garlic Pesto Atlantic Salmon with Asparagus.

The myriad of new ways retailers are merchandising salmon is “absolutely driving that one or two extra trips a year,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics. 

“Maybe salmon made inroads into grilling because of ready-to-go kabobs that replaced a steak or chicken kabob. Maybe marinated salmon brought that something different that shoppers are looking for or maybe the ready-to-cook ovenable packaging drove an extra purchase instead of getting takeout or delivery.”

While convenience is the top reason for buying value-added products, shoppers say that “buying something different” as a reason is a close second, according to Roerink.

Overall salmon sales continue to soar because it is a “healthy, delicious and versatile fish” and is relatively affordable, Oen said. 

“It is easy to cook successfully with salmon, and it hits trends like sushi and poke bowl that are widely appreciated.”

The strength of salmon is due to widespread popularity as a “non-fishy fish” that is versatile, tasty and easy to prepare, echoed Leigh Paone, category manager of Dairy/Meat for Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers.

While Natural Grocers primarily sells frozen seafood, its wild coho and sockeye salmon sold fresh are popular with shoppers.

Consumers recognize the health benefits of salmon — particularly its high Omega 3 fatty acid content — leading to strong sales month after month.

Post-COVID, many Americans are more focused on food as part of an improved health regime, according to Oen.

“An increasing part of the population is cutting back on red meat and some choose to substitute that protein with seafood. Also, while the price has increased on proteins like poultry and beef, the increase in price of salmon has been lower.”

Even though shoppers are concerned about overall grocery inflation, they view salmon as both as a more upscale option and an everyday choice, according to Roerink.

“There aren’t many proteins that can claim that. Salmon’s everyday strength has come its strong health halo, high consumer awareness and acceptance, and people’s comfort with preparing it. Salmon has done well in finding ways to actively encourage that extra trip, underscore its favorable health properties as well as building cooking confidence among shoppers. While it will be hard to beat the new dollar and volume records, the creativity in the marketplace is encouraging.”

Future growth

While retailers and analysts are bullish on fresh salmon sales this year, they also recognize that inflation may impact growth. Still, retailers can continue to grow sales by upping the fish’s presence in the deli case and strengthening marketing around salmon’s health and sustainability properties.

“Salmon [prices] have gone up throughout the year, as we have seen inflation progress this entire year across all food categories. We expect this to continue as suppliers and producers all over are seeing their costs go up for production/distribution and so they have to pass that cost along to customers,” Paone said.

After strong 2022 sales, executives at sustainable Norwegian farmed salmon company Kvarøy Arctic expect continued strong demand for its fresh salmon.

“In 2023, sales will grow in spite of higher cost due to the fact that the market has grown to love this fish and the nutritional benefits that come from it,” said Jennifer Bushman, chief marketing officer for Kvarøy.

While Boomers continue to look for attributes such as Omega 3 content, younger generations are attracted to Kvarøy “due to its connection to provenance, storytelling, sustainability commitment, innovations and environmentally positive practices,” Bushman said. For example, Kvarøy’s surveys show that the supplier’s moving away from Styrofoam to a 100% recyclable box has resonated with millennial customers.

“Salmon has been a powerhouse for many years running, which means the bar is getting higher and higher for continued growth. In the midst of incredible pressure on income, we’ve seen inflation take a bite out of the rest of seafood sales while salmon was able to maintain and even show some modest growth during certain months,” Roerink noted.

While it’s hard to say if there is a consumption “ceiling” for salmon, Roerink is “optimistic for continued growth.”

Still, she believes that additional salmon options could be added to deli departments to enhance future growth.

“In every deli survey I do, shoppers talk about wanting more protein variety besides chicken, chicken, chicken. Salmon makes for a great health-focused option, with a high like-factor among many shoppers.”

Plus, salmon is a “very versatile option” that can be added to salads, pastas, and other dishes, she added.

“Versatility in menu applications is a huge win in today’s deli and restaurant environment as many operators seek to limit the number of ingredients while still offering menu options. That’s where salmon can shine.”