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The seafood market grew only 0.2% in 1993 to reach retail sales of $8.4 billion.

The seafood market grew only 0.2% in 1993, to reach retail sales of $8.439 billion, according to a new study by Packaged Facts, the New York-based research company.

With growth of -7.0%, on sales of $894 million, the Frozen Seafood segment was most culpable for the market's loss. Canned seafood also turned in a losing performance however, with -2.2% growth on sales of $1.935 billion. Only the Fresh Seafood segment was a winner in 1993, with 2.4% growth on sales of $5,610 billion.

Factors specific to each segment played roles in their relative fortunes. Active participation by retailers in merchandising fresh seafood - such as expanded fresh seafood sections, value-added packaging (seasoned oven-ready fillets, etc.) and in-store cooking demonstrations - helped to buoy the Fresh segment. But this came at the expense of the Frozen Seafood segment which suffered from fresh seafood's gains.

Sales in the Canned Seafood segment stagnated because of a price war, which saw marketers eschewing marketing and promotion in favor of head-to-head price competition at the supermarket level.

A gradual recovery is projected for the market over the short term. The Frozen segment is expected to have the strongest rebound, with annual growth increasing from -4.5% in 1994 to 3.5% in 1999, when sales will reach $940 million. The Canned segment is also on the comeback trail. Annual growth is slated to increase from 0% in 1994, to 2.1% by 1999, when sales will reach $2.110 billion. Annual growth in the Fresh seafood segment is projected to remain relatively constant, varying between 4% and 5% through 1999, when sales will reach $7.235 billion. Annual growth for the total market is slated to increase from 2.2% in 1992 to 3.6% in 1999, bringing sales to $10.285 billion.

Negative publicity regarding seafood contamination has been a severe drag on the market in recent years. The industry is still rebounding from the effects of a lengthy and highly critical Consumer Reports survey of seafood safety published in 1992. Consumer Reports, citing high levels of bacteria in many seafoods products, complained of laxness by various players at different stages of the distribution process.

Put in perspective, however, negative publicity surrounding seafood seems relatively mild when compared with that affecting other forms of animal protein. In recent years a salmonella epidemic affecting poultry, tragic fatalities caused by bacteria in hamburger meat, and television exposes of unsanitary conditions in slaughter-houses have all raised troubling questions about the meat supply.

But notes David A. Weiss, "Because improved health is a prime motivation for eating seafood, its sales are extremely vulnerable to health scares. So, to continue growing, seafood must seem nutritionally superior to meat." Mr. Weiss feels that many consumers need specific reasons to buy seafood, "because it's still a somewhat unfamiliar food to them." Nothing that, American consumers living outside of coastal regions, did not have access to store-bought seafood until the advent of refrigeration, he points out, "It's no accident that the cliche description of the average American male used to be 'a meat-and-potatoes-kinda-guy."'

That metaphor lost popularity over the course of the 1970s and 1980s as information regarding the dangers of fat and cholesterol came to the fore, and consumers, perhaps unfairly, came to associate 'meat-and-potatoes-kinda-guys' with 'heart-disease-and-stroke-kinda-guys.'

Many consumers turned to seafood to improve their diet. But the shift toward seafood did not completely transform American eating habits. Although home seafood consumption increased dramatically, it never approached the surge in restaurant seafood consumption. "Although it's irrational, many consumers don't feel comfortable preparing fish. They have to think about it, it seems like an effort." He believes this is irrational because "in many ways seafood is easier to prepare than meat, certainly the cooking time is shorter." Nonetheless, this ambivalence on the part of consumers makes seafood sales particularly vulnerable to toxicity scares.

Mr. Weiss suggests that the key to future sales growth is to "make consumers feel confident in seafood safety, and more comfortable with preparation." He continues, "It will be hard to change people's eating habits without an all-out industry campaign." However, he considers an all-out effort unlikely - because, "Not only are fresh, frozen, and canned seafood marketers in competition with each other, but so, in effect, are marketers of different varieties of fish - shellfish versus fish; freshwater, farmed fish versus ocean-caught fish, etc. This situation does not make for a unified effort."
COPYRIGHT 1994 Frozen Food Digest, Inc.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Apr 1, 1994
Previous Article:Food prices to rise in 1994.
Next Article:Retail sales of private label production in supermarkets grew only 4.4%.

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