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US retail seafood sales spike in the first three quarters of 2021

Frozen and fresh seafood sales reached nearly USD 5.5 billion (EUR 4.8 billion) in sales for the first nine months of 2021, with fresh sales leading the way in dollar and volume growth, according to new data.

Fresh seafood sales spiked 3.9 percent by value and 2.9 percent by volume and frozen seafood sales grew 2 percent by value, but shrunk 2.4 percent by volume through the first three quarters of 2021, according to research firms IRI and 210 Analytics.

“When compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 levels, all three areas (fresh, frozen, and ambient) easily trended ahead,” 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink told SeafoodSource. Frozen seafood sales spiked more than 40 percent ahead of 2019, while fresh seafood sales jumped 33.7 percent compared to 2019.

“While some of that is inflation, volume and units also remained far ahead of 2019 levels,” Roerink said

In September, frozen seafood sales soared 7 percent compared to 2020, and 38.4 percent against 2019.

“Of the frozen protein offerings, seafood was by far the largest [category], with sales of USD 533 million (EUR 462 million) in September 2021,” Roerink said.

While fresh and frozen posted significant sales gains, ambient seafood (canned and pouches) sales dropped between 14 and 16 percent to USD 1.9 billion (EUR 1.7 billion) for the first three quarters of the year, due to the comparison with the COVID-19 pandemic-related grocery-buying spree in 2020.

For September, ambient sales remained flat compared to September 2020, but rose 8 percent compared to 2019. Canned salmon sales rose 2.6 percent this September versus 2020, but jumped 18.2 percent versus 2019. Tuna sales fell 1.7 percent in September versus 2020 but rose 4 percent compared to 2019.

For the fourth quarter, it is likely that fresh, frozen, and ambient sales will start to trend further ahead, according to Roerink.

“Demand in the fourth quarter of 2020 was elevated, but nothing like the peaks seen in the second quarter,” she said. “That means an easier road to growth.”

There is more good news for seafood at both retail and foodservice, as a quarter of Americans say they are eating more seafood than they did a year ago, according to a new International Food Information Council survey. Plus, three-quarters of consumers eat seafood at home or away from home at least once a month, and 46 percent eat it at least weekly, according to foodservice research firm Technomic. Only 12 percent of consumers say they never eat seafood.

According to Technomic’s 2021 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, 36 percent of Americans are eating more seafood in place of meat, Food Technology reported. Two-thirds of Americans are looking for more recipes and new products to help them do so, per Mintel’s 2021 Fish and Shellfish U.S. report.

And it appears as if the seafood industry’s longtime efforts to sell the American public on the quality of freezing their perishable products are finally paying off, as frozen seafood is perceived to be just as good or even better than fresh by a majority of younger consumers, driven in part by changes in the versatility, quality, and healthfulness of frozen substitutes, according to a new Deloitte survey.

“The combination of recent inflation and the perception that frozen food costs less (held by 62 percent of consumers) is attracting more consumers to frozen alternatives,” Deloitte said in a press release.

However, a significant 90 percent of consumers say eating fresh food makes them happy, compared to only 40 percent who say the same about frozen.

Photo courtesy of LADO/Shutterstock

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