Here’s a fish story backed up by real facts. It appears more consumers are hooked on seafood as an alternative to other meats.


The US fish and shellfish category grew moderately between 2009 and 2014, reaching $16.7 billion, and is expected to continue growing at this pace into 2019, reaching $20.1 billion. Mintel, a global market intelligence agency, finds that sales are largely driven by consumer perceptions that fish and shellfish are healthier than other meats—although consumers surveyed by Mintel are most apt to cite taste as the number one reason for eating fish/shellfish. Brands should continue to focus on taste and nutrition to drive sales, emphasizing specific attributes such as high omega-3 content and improved flavor ranges.

Consumer perceptions that fish and shellfish are healthier alternatives to other meats such as beef and pork are driving sales. Specific demographics that cite the most frequent consumption of fish and shellfish also are significant growth factors, including consumers with higher household income and Black, Asian and Hispanic consumers.


Fresh fish/shellfish accounts for $9.5 billion and 56.7% share in 2014, reflecting a gain of 8.7% over 2012 sales of $8.7 billion. Consumer demand for fresh food is driving growth in the segment. Frozen fish/shellfish comprises $4.7 billion and 27.9% share in 2014, a gain of 8.9% over 2012 sales of $4.3 billion, driven by improved taste and quality. Shelf-stable products account for $2.6 billion and 15.4% share in 2014, an increase of 0.7% over 2012 sales of $2.5 billion. Consumer demand for healthy and convenient snack food drives sales of shelf-stable products.


Information Resources’ multi-outlet data (MULO) fish and shellfish category is made up of 10 leading companies who market in three segments: frozen, shelf-stable, and refrigerated fish and shellfish. Shelf-stable brands such as StarKist and Bumble Bee make up significant sales in the category, as do frozen brands such as Gorton’s. The MULO category also maintains a strong private label presence, worth $2 billion and nearly 30% share in the year ending July 13, 2014.


However, most leading MULO companies declined between July 14, 2013, and July 13, 2014, illustrating that total category growth depends almost entirely on fresh fish (packaged and unpackaged), which is not tracked by IRI and therefore not included in MULO market sales figures.

Respondents report the most likelihood to buy canned/ packaged fish or seafood (47%) and fresh fish (46%) once a month or more often. More than four in 10 buy packaged frozen fish, while a third buy fresh shellfish. The convenience of canned/packaged products drives these purchases, while consumer demand for fresh foods drives broader fresh fish/shellfish purchases. Frozen products appeal to those looking for convenient products that can be kept on hand for quick meal solutions, especially as the quality of frozen products has improved.


Respondents are more or less equally likely to have bought wild-caught (37%) and farm-raised (33%) fish and shellfish in the last three months. Wild-caught fish/shellfish is likely perceived as the healthiest and highest quality, but concerns about sustainability may lead some to opt for farm-raised (some 19% report buying sustainably caught fish/shellfish during this time). Three in 10 say they bought premium quality fish/ shellfish in the last three months. Consumers may perceive attributes such as imported, organic, or free from antibiotics/hormones to be associated with premium quality.


Respondents who eat fish/shellfish once a month or more are most likely to say they do so because they like the taste and because it is a healthy alternative to other meats. Brands are encouraged to focus on these two attributes when marketing their products. For example, the website for leading frozen brand Gorton’s cites the omega-3 content (important to 34% of respondents) in its products but also emphasizes the variety of flavors it offers and provides recipes for further flavor experimentation.

Other important health reasons for eating fish/shellfish include trying to eat more fresh foods (30% agree) and cutting the risk of heart attack (22%). Brands must emphasize these attributes to help promote their products.


Respondents who eat fish/shellfish once a month or more are significantly likely to want to see more resealable packaging (29%), as well as more single-serve packs (25%) and family-size packs (23%). Resealable packaging would help reduce fears of spoilage. Single-serve packs help cater to the increased percentage of single-person households (up from 17% in 1970 to 27.4% in 2012, according to the US Census Bureau). Family-size packs are likely to appeal to larger households. Convenient attributes such as on-package recipe ideas and pre-seasoned/marinated products also hold significant appeal, as do healthy attributes such as no additives, no preservatives and low, no, or reduced sodium.

While nutrition is a key driver for fish/shellfish product growth, brands must place equal emphasis on flavor to attract buyers and increase consumption frequency.


Illustrating how fish and shellfish provide nutrition that other meats cannot match is likely to help fend off competition from beef, pork, and poultry brands, given that the USDA projects that per capita beef and poultry consumption will begin to increase again between 2014 and 2021 (beef consumption has declined since as far back as 1985, while poultry consumption has fluctuated between 2006 and 2014).

Brands also can show how their products provide a wider range of flavors than these other proteins, especially if brands continue to expand their flavor varieties and provide recipes that help buyers expand the ways they prepare fish and shellfish. Pre-seasoned and marinated products, ethnic flavors, and different prepared products (such as breaded varieties) will all help illustrate how fish and shellfish brands keep their products interesting. Pairing new flavors with fresh products is ideal, as consumers perceive fresh fish and shellfish to be the highest quality, but innovative flavors will also help grow sales of frozen and shelf-stable products.


Source: Fish and Shellfish-US-October 2014

Amy Kraushaar is US Category Manager, Foods & Drink and Foodservice at Mintel.