Due to a surplus in wild Alaskan salmon from last season, along with significant deflation on crab and lobster, grocery chains across the US are offering specials on the popular seafood items.

Fresh crab declined 15% for the 3 weeks ending 26 February, according to 210 Analytics and Circana (formerly IRI and NPD Group), while fresh lobster prices dropped 15.4%.

As a result, fresh crab sales hiked up 11.5% during the quarter, while unit sales soared 25.7%. While fresh lobster sales dropped 8.8% during the quarter, units rose 1.9%.

Crab also realized the largest volume gains —up 1.6 million pounds — in the fresh seafood department for the 13 weeks ending Feb. 4, according to Nielsen IQ powered by Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Category Partners. NielsenIQ shows a 15.6% drop in fresh crab prices.

 Meanwhile, frozen crab prices declined a whopping 71.6% over the most recent quarter, resulting in a 3.6% uptick in sales, according to Circana and 210 Analytics.

“With the ups and downs of any commodity market, there are always nuggets of gold to grab. Recently it was snow crab as that is probably one of the fastest cost-deflating seafood items we have recently seen compared to the same time last year,” said Jason Resner, meat and seafood sales and merchandising lead for Downer’s Grove, Ill.-based Fresh Thyme Market. “We definitely locked on to that item and have made some significant, positive impact on year-over-year pounds sold and increased our customers consumption of snow crab so far this year.”

Resner notes an average of 240% deflation at retail in snow crab — sliding from around $17.99 per pound last spring to between $6.99 and $7.99 a pound this spring.

Fresh Thyme has also done well with promotions on 6/12-count colossal king crab legs on special for $39.99 a pound this spring, as well as on the king crab arm and claw combo.

“Both have done well as we are advertising those at around a 67% retail deflation from last year,” Resner said.

Specials on frozen snow crab also abound. Jacksonville, Fla.-based Winn-Dixie, a division of Southeastern Grocers, priced the popular shellfish at $9.99 per pound for the Easter weekend.

Meanwhile, The Fresh Market was touting fresh wild North American lobster tails for $9.99 each over the Easter holiday weekend, along with ultimate lump crab cakes at two for $12.

“One of the most common ways to save money in today’s tough financial times is by cutting back on restaurant spending. This is driving a strong desire to recreate restaurant meals at home,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics. “This is a big opportunity for crab and lobster in particular because neither perform well in restaurant takeout and delivery.”

As a result, retailers must overcome shoppers’ cooking barriers with easy-to-follow instructions, ready-to-cook packaging solutions or steam/prepare-in-store ready-to-eat offerings, Roerink noted.

Retailers should also promote crab and lobster for holidays such as Easter and Mother’s Day as “we always see shoppers willing to open their wallets just a little wider for special occasions,” Roerink said. Retailers can also “self-invent” holidays such as “Lobsterfest” — “great times to “reconnect people with crab and lobster,” she said.

Grocers can also boost sales by actively pointing out deflation on the shellfish, Roerink suggested. 

Wild salmon promotions rise

Fresh salmon (wild and farmed) sported a price hike of 9% in the most recent quarter, according to NielsenIQ and Category Partners, resulting in the biggest drop of any fresh seafood item at 2.4 million pounds.

While overall salmon prices have risen, retail promotions on wild salmon are abundant after a record-setting sockeye salmon run of more than 76 million pounds in Bristol Bay, Alaska, last year. The total sockeye catch was up 36% year-over-year compared the same period of 2021, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Plus, the ADFG expects 189 million total salmon will be harvested for the upcoming 2023 season — up from 163.2 million last season. This includes 122 million pink salmon, 48 million sockeye salmon, 16 million chum salmon, and 3 million coho salmon.

As a result of the surplus, the average price per pound of wild sockeye salmon on sale at grocery stores is down 7% since early 2022, compared to an increase of 12% for farmed Atlantic salmon fillets, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) said in a news release, citing Urner Barry Retail Features data.

“This means there is an abundance of wild sockeye available at retailers across the country, with many offering deals as we head into the 2023 harvest this summer,” said Lilani Dunn, marketing director for BBRSDA. “As shoppers may be seeing inflated prices for other sources of protein, wide availability and deals on wild sockeye salmon at retailers lend even more appeal to America’s favorite fish.”

“We are seeing and supporting all kinds of promotions, which include everything from spotlighting Bristol Bay sockeye salmon through POS materials, sharing recipes and cooking inspiration for shoppers, and more, to temporary cost-savings and deals like buy one, get one for beautiful wild sockeye fillets,” Dunn said. The promotions include both frozen and refreshed wild sockeye.

Costco, Whole Foods, Albertson’s, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and QFC are among the retailers offering specials on wild Bristol Bay salmon. Amazon Fresh is offering customers a free 12-ounce Bristol Bay sockeye salmon filet when they spend more than $100. And Bellevue, Wash.-based Quality Food Centers (QFC) had fresh Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fillets for $8.99 a pound in early April.

Kroger’s Fred Meyer banner recently ran offered headed and gutted Bristol Bay sockeye for $4.77 a pound, according to Dunn. And Salt Lake City, Utah-based Harmons recently promoted refreshed sockeye for $9.49 a pound. 

Seattle-based Costco was promoting its frozen Kirkland Signature wild Alaskan sockeye salmon for $44.99 per 3-pound bag of 5-ounce to 7-ounce portions on its web site in early April. It was also touting Northwest Fish’s wild Alaskan sockeye fillets for $219.99 for a 10-pound bag.

“Now is the time to stock up on Alaska sockeye and consumers can feel good about having this wild, sustainable fish on their tables,” Dunn said. “In addition to home cooks, we encourage retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, and importers to reach out to us to collaborate on ways to showcase this tremendous protein.”

Sockeye is one of the most popular salmon species due to its taste and texture, according to BBRSDA, “which make it perfect for almost all preparation techniques, including grilling, broiling, sautéing, roasting, poaching, steaming and smoking.”

“Bristol Bay sockeye salmon is also guaranteed to be wild and sustainably caught, with the fishery adhering to strict sustainability standards upheld by the ADFG.

While many grocers are running promotions in the spring, there will likely be a new batch of promotions around the start of the fishing season in early summer, Dunn noted. “Thanks to the high quality of frozen Bristol Bay sockeye, most channels see a steady demand year-round,” she said.