The following was provided to IntraFish by Rick Stein, vice president of Fresh Foods at FMI, the Food Industry Association, which represents US food retailers, wholesalers and suppliers.

If the global pandemic caused waves of change in the way people buy and eat food – including and perhaps especially seafood – there are opportunities to keep that forward momentum going.

That’s a key takeaway from the new report, The Power of Seafood 2021: An In-Depth Look at Seafood Through the Shopper’s Eyes, published by FMI—The Food Industry Association.

The fresh-off-the-presses version of The Power of Seafood 2021 includes important insights on the impact of the pandemic on shoppers’ habits and preferences for seafood, which have widened in many respects. Beyond pandemic-related changes that have affected what, how and why people buy seafood, FMI’s latest report reveals other priorities that are driving consumers’ taste for seafood, from sustainability to convenience to variety.

There’s a lot churning on and under the surface.

On the Upside

Diving into the notable findings from The Power of Seafood 2021, it’s clear that shoppers are eating more seafood.

During the pandemic, the seafood department experienced a collective sales increase of 28.4 percent, and total seafood products generated more than $16.6 billion (€13.6 billion) in sales for US food retailers in 2020.

Most of the growth came from fresh (+24.9 percent) and frozen (+35.7 percent) seafood, as consumers reported that they are cooking more at home and seeking to eat healthier.

Today, nearly a third (32 percent) of shoppers can be classified as frequent seafood consumers or are eating seafood at least two times a week, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation. That’s up from 25 percent of shoppers described that way in last year’s FMI report and 21 percent in the year before that.

Lots of retail food categories experienced an uptick in sales during the past year or so, but there have been different trajectories that highlight the true growth pattern of certain sectors. Although still less in total dollar sales than fresh meat or produce, the seafood department’s percentage of growth has outpaced both of those larger departments.

In addition – and importantly -- people aren’t just eating more of one type of seafood. More than a third (38 percent) of seafood consumers say they have bought new or different seafood during the pandemic.

Sales data confirms that growth is coming across almost every species, with salmon, shrimp and tuna (considered the “big three”) faring well in the past year, along with crab and lobster.

Those who are buying more types of seafood products often have more to spend, too. FMI’s newest report confirms that seafood shoppers have higher incomes, spend more, shop more frequently in store and also shop heavily online. Whether fresh or frozen, when seafood is in the basket, the sale is almost three times the average basket size.

Seize the Opportunity

To best capitalize on the forward movement of seafood in both volume and variety, those who provide and purvey seafood would be well served to provide people with more ideas on how to prepare seafood dishes.

According to The Power of Seafood 2021, there is a real hunger for such suggestions. We found that 75 percent of seafood consumers want to know more about how to cook, prepare and flavor seafood. They already look for ideas on recipe websites and apps, social media and from friends and family, but there is a significant opportunity for seafood processors and retailers to be a source of information – after all, they are the experts.

In addition to sharing tips on buying, handling and preparing seafood, it’s also helpful to share information on how seafood is sourced. People love a good story and, with interest in sustainability continuing to grow, appreciate hearing more about the story of their food. Sharing information about freshness is also of interest to today’s shoppers, who associate freshness with quality, according to findings from The Power of Seafood 2021.

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Keeping the wave of interest in seafood going, especially as lifestyles and economies open up in the slow march to the new normal, also means giving people more opportunities to buy seafood.

The rise in e-commerce that started before the pandemic was amplified by consumers cooking more at home. These changed shopping habits open up avenues for seafood sales and merchandising, both in brick-and-mortar stores and in supermarkets’ ecommerce platforms.

Finally, there is another significant opportunity to grow the seafood business by tapping into an as-yet-unrealized group of consumers.

According to the latest data in The Power of Seafood 2021, 38 percent of adults are not even occasional seafood consumers. While that is down from the 43 percent and 44 percent of the last two studies, it underscores the sizable potential for future seafood eaters, who might be reached with recipe ideas and new channels to try and buy seafood.

There’s keeping up the waves of momentum and there’s also creating new winds of change. Let’s see how we can shift them in the coming year.