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Editor's Note: Placing a higher value on seafood

Fiona Robinson, Associate Publisher / Editor
By Fiona Robinson
December 01, 2013

The U.S. seafood industry was presented with a grim reality last month when the government announced that seafood consumption in 2012 had dropped (see News Recap, p. 6 of digital edition). Pundits have had a little time to chew on the topic, and the reasons for the decline run the gamut. The environmental camp used it as a soapbox opportunity to say consumers are eating less seafood because of fear of contaminants. Companies that produce contaminant-testing kits capitalized on the moment by saying low consumer confidence in seafood was to blame. 

What’s scaring people away from seafood is the price. Name a species that hasn’t gone through major price increase in the past few years and you’ll find a fish available only to a limited population. In September the Consumer Price Index for seafood reached an all-time high of 147.6, a 48 percent increase from January 2003. The only other protein with a higher CPI than seafood was beef and veal, which reached 166.4 in September, a 67 percent increase in the same time period.

When will Americans get used to the new reality of high seafood prices? There are many different factors that can affect price: cost of goods, transportation costs and sometimes even disease, as is the case with the topic of this issue’s Top Story on shrimp shortages caused by early mortality syndrome. The article, Squeezed, by Assistant Editor Melissa Wood, discusses the current scenario with shrimp prices at an all-time high. The reality is that if Americans gave up the equivalent of one Starbucks latte a week they could still afford that bigger-sized shrimp they used to buy.

Travel anywhere overseas and you’ll see the price of food is typically higher than it is in the United States. For decades, U.S. supermarkets trained customers to buy seafood when it was on promotion. However, since the recession retailers are offering fewer promotions and shallower discounts. It’s no surprise that supermarket seafood sales spike during Lent, as that remains the last promotional retail push for seafood. 

If the United States is going to increase seafood consumption then retailers need to take the splurge mentality out of the purchasing equation. The “all the best seafood at rock-bottom prices” selling point has to change when it comes to fish, because bargain fish is truly no bargain at all and doesn’t instill repeat purchases. What can be done to move the seafood consumption bar along? To focus marketing attention away from price and onto the health benefits of seafood consumption is one obvious choice.

What are your ideas to move the seafood consumption bar along? I welcome your suggestions.

 

  December 2013 - SeaFood Business

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