Sales of frozen plant-based alternative seafood products were pummeled in March, according to the latest IRI supermarket sales data compiled by market research firm 210 Analytics.

March sales of $1.1 million (€1 million) tumbled 15.3 percent on a dollar-value basis, and the number of pounds of product sold fell more than 26 percent compared with March 2022.

The same trend plagued sales in the much larger alternative meat category. Combined refrigerated and frozen plant-based meat alternatives generated $105 million (€96 million) in March, a drop of 8.9 percent in value year-over-year and a 14.4 decrease in volume. Unit sales slipped just over 16 percent in March.

The decline in sales of plant-based meat products is being met with a trimming of items from stores.

"Retailers carried fewer refrigerated meat alternatives per store in March 2023 than they did in the same month in 2022," said Anne-Marie Roerink, CEO of 210 Analytics.

"When comparing the reduction over the full year versus March, it appears that the pullback on plant-based meat alternative assortment in the refrigerated areas is speeding up."

Frozen meat and poultry alternatives sales reached $72.2 million (€65 million) in March. Dollars, units and pounds were down for these meat alternatives, with units sold slipping nearly 16 percent.

Consumers say 'no'

US retail sales of plant-based seafood alternatives had been rising steadily over the past several years, but in 2022 growth began to slow and sales have continued dropping since the beginning of the year.

Retail sales of plant-based frozen seafood alternatives hit $11.5 million (€10.6 million) in 2022, up 17.1 percent from 2021, according 210 Analytics.

Despite the double-digit dollar sales rise, both the number of units sold and the volume sold in 2022 grew at a noticeably slower pace.

"The dollar performance was far better than the unit and volume performance, which means inflation played a role," said Roerink.

Units sold grew 9.3 percent in 2022 and volume sold was up 8.8 percent, the weakest growth in recent years. Units and volume sales growth was around 17.7 percent in 2021.

The category began this year with lackluster performance.

Dollars sales in January slid 12.1 percent to $888,319 (€832,207), compared with January 2022. Unit sales were off nearly 24 percent, according to 210 Analytics.

And February was no better. Sales of just over $795,000 (€738,000) were down 15 percent from February of 2022, and the number of units sold fell by 23 percent.

For the 52-week period ending Feb. 26, the number of units of plant-based seafood alternatives sold at US supermarkets was flat. The value of these sales rose 9.1 percent to just over $11 million (€10.2 million). By comparison, during that same 52-week period, US retail sales of real seafood exceeded $11.3 billion (€10.5 billion).

What's next?

While many traditional seafood companies have criticized the products for their marketing messages -- with some alleging outright fraud -- an increasing number of major companies have embraced plant-based products as a part of their overall line.

Most notably, three of the largest fish finger suppliers to the UK and EU market -- Birds Eye and Iglo parent Nomad Foods, Germany-based Frosta and Young's Seafood parent Sofina -- launched plant-based "fish finger alternatives."

Nomad in particular is banking on the trend, creating a new "Green Cuisine" brand for its products, and marketing it heavily across its markets.

Other seafood groups have also moved into plant-based seafood, either via investment or partnership.

Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods, owned by seafood conglomerate Thai Union Group, itself one of the world's largest global shrimp suppliers, will partner with the Ish Food Company, a Pennsylvania-based plant-based shrimp maker.

Alternative seafood products are an increasingly important sector of the food industry. In 2022, more than $175 million (€162 million) was invested in companies producing or planning to produce alternative seafood items. The investment reflects a 92 percent increase from the $91 million (€84.3 million) invested in the sector in 2020.

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