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Point of View: Can we see 2020 from here?

Predicting the products and services seafood retailers will offer in the future

Chuck Anderson
By Chuck Anderson
January 01, 2013

The beginning of a new year always gets you thinking about the future. For seafood retailers, it’s never too soon to plan for the needs of tomorrow’s consumers — tomorrow meaning 2020. Here’s what I see: 

I envision locally farmed fresh seafood in major U.S. cities. I see locally grown shrimp and yellow perch in Cleveland; farmed salmon and seaweed in Atlanta; oysters, sea cucumbers and milkfish in San Francisco; and cobia, sardines and stone crab in New York. 

Indoor recirculating aquaculture technology is slowly becoming economically viable. Improvements in feed, breeding and genetics, and lower long-term energy costs will help locally farmed seafood compete with traditional imported aquaculture products. But how will these facilities be financed, built and marketed? Will retailers partner with today’s aquaculture giants or take the initiative on their own with help from a state university? Will start-ups make it happen? Will it be a national restaurant chain that has the first viable multi-trophic recirculating production facility in the United States? It may be some combination, but I feel confident that local, responsibly raised fresh seafood is coming soon. 

I see farmed seafood slowly losing the stigma it has been labeled with in the eyes of many educated, affluent consumers. Advancements in aquaculture technology, effective farming standards and third-party certifications will help. However, scientific evidence will lead many to the realization that farmed fish is a more efficient and environmentally friendly method of growing protein, and that will make the ultimate difference. 

I expect more ready-to-eat and ready-to-serve seafood products. It is the fastest growing segment in retail seafood and will continue to grow, as half of American consumers are still afraid to prepare fish at home. Retailers will strive to increase market share at the expense of foodservice. Retail seafood has room for growth with 70 percent of seafood sold in restaurants. This means more seafood cakes, salads and value-added fish. Americans love burgers. With health and nutrition continuing to drive consumer choices, tilapia, salmon and carp burgers could challenge beef burgers for market share.  

I see technological advances in food safety driving many of the changes. Today, we can safely kill spoilage bacteria action with ozonated water, modified air packaging and irradiated food. Nanotechnology is producing antibacterial surfaces, utensils and packaging with more advances every year. Fresh fish with a 45-day shelf life is feasible. 

I see the wealth gap widening further over the next decade and retailers will have to adapt. One-size-fits-all, traditional supermarkets that market to all segments will dwindle. Retailers will have vastly different formats for these gentrified consumer segments and will target the haves and have-nots. Seafood departments will follow suit with value-format stores offering self-service, extended shelf life farmed seafood, limited frozen wild seafood and cheap mass-produced frozen farmed seafood, such as tilapia, mussels and swai. All retail formats will offer value-added products, with value retailers offering a limited variety of high volume ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat seafood products. 

I see superior service and information overload from upscale retailers catering to well-educated and affluent consumers in 2020. Chilean sea bass will have a QR code so customers can see a 3D holographic image of the boat and captain that caught the fish. A digital GIS map will indicate the exact catch location, method of catch, gear type, up-to-date stock status for the fishing area, and responsible catch rating, all accessible on mobile devices. A selection of videos of talented chefs offering preparation ideas will be a touch away. 

Since the average supermarket is remodeled every five or six years, the seafood department of 2020 is still an idea on drafting paper on the wall.

The seafood department of 2020 will be very different, but by 2030 it may be nonexistent. Will frozen seafood, or even refrigerated seafood be obsolete due to advances in food preservation and manufacturing? The marketing and merchandising opportunities would not be limited by traditional thinking. 

It is getting hard to see, as my vision gets blurry beyond 2020, but quality will always be most important.

Chuck Anderson markets and sells fresh fish for Pier Fish Co. in New Bedford, Mass. He previously held various executive-level seafood sourcing and merchandising positions with HEB in Texas and Ahold USA on the East Coast.

January 2013 - SeaFood Business

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