Something fishy: innovation, health benefits and sustainability are prompting more shoppers to put seafood on their lists.
It's not the beginning of a nautical nursery rhyme, but just one of the dozens of items coming down the pike to revolutionize the seafood case. Pickled Alaskan Pollock from LB Enterprises Seafoods was sampled for the first time--along with 20 other new products--at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood Open House reception in late January. "It got rave reviews from the folks that tried it, but the People's Choice Winner was the Wild Alaskan Halibut with Blue Cheese Butter and Hazelnut Crust produced by Hartley's NW Seafoods," says Larry Andrews, retail marketing director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Seattle.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Columbia, Md.-based Captn's Pack Products is introducing five items under the Captn's Pack label: Breaded Butterfly Shrimp, Breaded Torpedo Shrimp, Bangkok Firecracker Shrimp/Hot & Spicy, Shrimp Delight Combo and Shrimp Wonton Soup.
National sales manager Frank Sauro sees shrimp continuing to gain in popularity. "Value-added shrimp--marinated, breaded, etc.--are showing rapid growth and gaining market share," he says. "There is a market for high-quality, value-added shrimp products. Retailers are beginning to pay more attention to these items and are creating much-needed shelf space to capture the value-added shrimp consumer."
That spells good news for domestic shrimp, which has been hammered by cheap imports for years.
"The whole world has moved--and seafood is joining suit--away from generic marketing," says Eddie Gordon, executive director of Wild American Shrimp, Inc., a Charleston, S.C.-based nonprofit that promotes the warm water shrimp caught in eight Gulf and Southern states. He sees the seafood industry segmenting itself, much like wineries have done with varietals. "There will be a lot of differentiation of product and giving the consumer a choice, and by making shrimp not just shrimp you give the people what they want and satisfy an entire market," Gordon says.
To promote domestic shrimp, Wild American has been working with food editors and chefs, as well as doing in-store demos.
One of those chefs is Emeril Lagasse, who dedicated his March 4 Emeril Live show to Certified Wild American Shrimp, incorporating a number Cajun-themed dishes.
Many of those shrimp are from Louisiana waters. "This year we're getting back to what we're good at," says Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board in New Orleans, noting that after a year and a half of helping fishermen recover from Hurricane Katrina, the board is once again able to turn its focus to marketing.
There are two new promotions this year. In February, the Louisiana Oyster Jubilee was held in New Orleans' French Quarter to plug the oyster industry, and in May or June a New Orleans Seafood Festival will be held in the city. Smith is looking for supermarket tie-ins. "We're developing hotel packages and there might be some unique opportunities to award trips through grocery chains," he says.
A promotion on that order will bring new consumers to the seafood case, but scores have been seeking it out on their own. "News in 2006 that seafood is heart-healthy, and, according to the FDA, continues to represent an important part of a balanced diet, is generating more interest in seafood," says George Norris, creative services manager at American Pride Seafoods in Greensboro, Ala.
That's prompted American Pride to increase its offerings. New this year is the SeaSwirls line of premium fish filets wrapped around gourmet seafood stuffing. Items include catfish with Cajun crab stuffing; salmon with shrimp and cream cheese; flounder with lobster; tilapia with crab, lobster, Asiago and fontina cheese; and a mini-flounder roll with crab stuffing.
GRADE A SCALLOPS
American Pride has also introduced a two-pound retail bag of sea scallops and started a Grade A scallops program. "We feel like we have the best quality sea scallops in the business and Grade A certification will confirm that," Norris says.
Innovation continues to drive the industry. Baltimore-based Phillips Foods & Seafood Restaurants is debuting flavored fish at the Boston Seafood Show, being held March 11-13. Using technology modeled after nicotine patches, the fish is placed in a bag with a flavor pouch, vacuum packed and flash frozen. "While the fish is in transit to our customers it is actually marinating," says Honey Konicoff, vice president, marketing.
Packed two four-ounce portions per package, varieties are white wine and herb mahi mahi and peppercorn tuna.
For foodservice, Phillips is launching one-pound containers of king crab meat, sourced from Russian red crab. "So few people prepare king crab dishes in restaurants because the labor involved in cleaning the crabs makes it prohibitive," Konicoff says. "However, king crab's popularity continues growing by leaps and bounds." The containers have no UPC, but Konicoff says they can be sold at the seafood counter as weighed and priced items until retail packaging is available later this spring.
Harbor Seafood will christen several new items at the Boston Seafood Show. "We want to get more and more people hooked on fish," says Christian Limberg, national sales manager at the New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based company.
The Harbor Seafood brand box line consists of one-pound boxes of whole cooked clams in the shell, clam meat, lobster meat, seafood mix, and mussels in the shell with natural juice.
Its four-ounce Seafood Singles brand consists of tilapia, imitation crab and whole clams in the shell. All come packed in their own shippers. "It allows the product to really show itself off," Limberg says. "Often the four-ounce product ends up in the coffin case or all over the freezer. This is a really great way to consolidate it in a great uniform pack."
The whole clams and the imitation crab meat sell for under $1. "Our research shows people don't want to worry about waste," Limberg adds. "They want to make sure they spend their money wisely and conserve it," he says.
They also want to know where their seafood is coming from.
"Consumers are really wanting to know the story behind their seafood," says Tobias Aguirre. He's the executive director of FishWise, a Santa Cruz, Calif. company that markets a seafood grading and employee training system that allows retailers to showcase items using color codes based on availability and sustainability. Green means an item is readily available, hails from steady stocks and was caught or raised in a way that isn't damaging to the environment. Yellow means there are some issues around the product and red means the species is either in danger of being depleted or is harvested in an environmentally unfriendly way.
FishWise is being used in 34 stores, including Andronico's in California. "When we set up a new retailer, we look at everything they are currently selling, rank it and assist them in changing the color composition before they even launch the program. So when they do a public launch it is already largely sustainable," Aguirre says.
Most retailers start out with one-third of each, he says, noting that over time some, like Neally's Markets in Santa Cruz, completely phase out red items. "The traditional mindset is to try and maximize the sale of every single item, even the unsustainable ones," Aguirre says. "We tell them to take a step back, take a comprehensive approach to the seafood case, and look at it in a way that's going to improve performance overall."
Chances are seafood from Alaska is going to be labeled green. "We have sustainability written into the state constitution," says Andrews of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. "It is part of what they call a sustainable yield basis. It ensures there are fish for our future and is heavily monitored and regulated."
Notes Stacey Viera, a spokeswoman for the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va., "The two biggest trends are sustainability and aquaculture. We know how much seafood we can get out of wild-capture fisheries--between 85 and 100 million metric tons annually--so aquaculture is a big trend that will help feed the world's hungry going into the future."
As aquaculture improves, consumers will be more willing to buy farmed products, says Stephanie Crane Faison, media relations director for Seafood Choices Alliance in Silver Spring, Md. "It's widely known that much of the salmon farming is bad for the environment, but there are so many other great methods of farming," she says, listing catfish, tilapia, oysters, clams and scallops.
"We're going to see more eco-labeled products at retail," Crane Faison says. "We've just seen the tip of the iceberg at Whole Foods with the Marine Stewardship Council-labeled Western Australian Rock Lobster and Chilean sea bass coming from that one sustainable fishery, and the wild Alaskan salmon products," she says.
U.S. farm-raised Australian barramundi has just been added to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Guide as a best choice. "That is a wonderful milestone for us, and we're thrilled to offer Australis barramundi as a healthy and sustainable seafood choice," says Carol Devine, vice president, marketing, at Australis Aquaculture in Turners Falls, Mass.
RELATED ARTICLE: MCCORMICK POS PLAN TARGETS SEAFOOD
McCormick & Co. is bringing new products and merchandising programs to the seafood counter. "We're calling it the 'seafood revitalization' of our section, and we're introducing a whole point-of-sale program that utilizes big cards that sit in a Plexiglas display with food photography, consumer leaflets and recipe cards," says Laurie Harrsen, director of public relations and consumer affairs at the Hunt Valley, Md. company.
Packaging and graphics for seafood-oriented products have been redesigned to incorporate the image of a wave as the company concentrates on a three-brand strategy of McCormick, Old Bay and Zatarain's.
"The right combination of products, packaging and merchandising will attract attention and grow sales," Harrsen says. "Fifty percent of seafood complement purchases are at the same time as the seafood buy. Our new merchandising equipment and POS encourage impulse buys, drive trial and facilitate easier shopability."
McCormick is debuting several new products at the Boston Seafood Show:
* 30% LESS SODIUM OLD BAY SEASONING. In addition to fish, it can be used on poultry, salads, meats, popcorn and other items. Suggested retail price is $1.99.
* OLD BAY RUB. A coarse blend of Old Bay with a touch of brown sugar that creates a flavorful crust on grilled or broiled seafood. Suggested retail price is $1.79.
* OLD BAY SEAFOOD STEAMERS. A kit that allows consumers to place fresh shrimp and seasoning in a special steaming bag, shake and microwave for three to four minutes. Suggested retail price is $2.89.
* MCCORMICK SEAFOOD SAUCES. Available flavors are Mediterranean, Santa Fe and Asian. Suggested retail price is $3.23.
* MCCORMICK SEAFOOD STEAMERS. Specially designed steaming bags available in Garlic Butter and Lemon Garlic flavors. Suggested retail price is $2.89.--Richard Turcsik
RELATED ARTICLE: DIVIDING THE CATCH
Distribution of seafood department sales of fresh fin fish and shellfish for 52 weeks ended Dec. 30.
$ share of $ share of category category % point FIN FISH 2006 2005 change Salmon 36.32% 35.92% 0.4 Tilapia 13.47 11.06 2.4 Catfish 10.87 11.95 -1.1 Other fresh fish 9.73 9.84 -0.1 Cod/scrod 5.51 5.69 -0.2 Haddock 4.23 4.30 -0.1 Tuna 3.40 3.37 0.0 Flounder 3.32 3.58 -0.3 Swordfish 2.60 2.72 -0.1 Halibut 2.37 2.79 -0.4 Whiting 2.12 2.43 -0.3 Roughy 1.70 1.55 0.2 Trout 1.63 1.67 0.0 Snapper 1.46 1.51 -0.1 Perch 1.28 1.61 -0.3 SHELLFISH Shrimp 61.84 65.63 -3.8 Crabs 22.90 18.32 4.6 Lobsters 5.77 6.43 -0.7 Scallops 5.52 5.48 0.0 Clams 1.66 1.62 0.0 Oysters 1.18 1.30 -0.1 Mussels 0.46 0.48 0.0 Crawfish/crayfish 0.32 0.39 -0.1 Squid 0.28 0.28 0.0 Octopus 0.05 0.05 0.0 Conch 0.01 0.01 0.0 Snails 0.01 0.01 0.0
Source: The Perishables Group