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US restaurant chain shifts seafood procurement as customer trends change

Gradually, seafood consumption is outpacing steak consumption and the company seeks out more sustainable seafood options.

Columbus, Ohio-based US restaurant chain Ocean Prime is shifting its seafood procurement to match its consumer base, with quality as the top factor in its seafood sourcing.

Michael Denton, purchasing director, regional chef and operating partner, told IntraFish the company also is moving away from certain seafood products.

It is working with an East Coast seafood firm that sources shrimp from a 4-star BAP processing plant that offers "naked shrimp," which is free of chemicals and antibiotics.

It's also moving its lobster meat supply over to a chemical-free option and started sourcing salmon from 4-star BAP rated Northern Harvest Sea Farms in Canada.

"We're doing a test next week with three locations with Northern Harvest salmon and if it does well, we'll expand it," he said.

Seafood consumption is also on the rise.

"We're definitely seeing a shift, not as dramatic as people expect it to be," said Denton. The company started as 50/50 seafood/steak and now it's about 55 percent seafood.

"People, especially millenials, are gravitating more toward healthier proteins," he told IntraFish.

"Also, I believe it's because we've positioned ourselves as an industry leader for seafood, especially in our segment. Over the years, the number of fresh fish species we sourced grew from five to nine."

The chain has 14 locations from coast to coast, with the original one located in Ohio.

Over the past few years, Ocean Prime added sushi to its menus. While tuna appetizers have been popular, its tuna entrees never were until recently. "In the last two years, our tuna entree sales doubled," said Denton.

91eb16b04c7f37a92e9aa5dc31d38854 Ahi Tuna Tartare  Photo: Ocean Prime

As for the company's seafood procurement policy, it factors in several elements, such as locally harvested or farmed, sustainability and more.

As for more obscure seafood, chefs are given guidelines but have flexibility and mostly spearhead the purchasing.

"In Ohio, we can't source that much locally, but we source from the US as much as possible. However, our No. 1 factor is quality."

Their customers expect a higher-end experience so while the company follows trends closely, it aims to maintain a level of menu consistency, seafood quality and avoids overwhelming customers with food trends that may be too flighty.

"We want to stick to our core while delivering great products to our guests. They get upset when we pull their favorite dishes off menus," he told IntraFish. "Some locations change their menu seasonally and look to do more farm-to-table concepts."

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