« December 2009 Table of Contents Pin It

Spotlight: Dipping into seafood

Versatile, seafood-based dips attempt to break free from the bowl

By Lauren Kramer
December 01, 2009

While Mexican-influenced dips are the most prominent of all dip varieties, seafood dips are certainly maintaining their popularity. Figures by Datassential Research, a menu-trend tracking firm in Chicago, indicate that seafood dips are offered on 13 percent of restaurant menus that feature appetizer dips. In the fine-dining segment, seafood dips have a menu penetration of 27 percent, while among casual-dining its penetration is 15 percent.

And they're not just used for dipping. These days consumers are using seafood dips in a variety of other applications, including on sandwiches, on pizza, in salads and as spreads.

"There are endless recipe possibilities using seafood dips," says Emily Alfano, senior marketing manager at Future Food.

The Carrollton, Texas-based company has two lines of seafood dips: Santa Barbara Bay and Salads of the Sea. The former is a line of premium seafood dips made with real seafood items like crab and salmon, while the latter is made with surimi seafood in its dips. Cajun Krab dip with surimi is the most popular flavor out of some 25 Salads of the Sea varieties sold to retail and foodservice accounts nationwide.

Fortune Foods has produced private-label products for several years, and this segment of the business has picked up considerably over the past couple 
of years.

"The category is definitely becoming competitive, especially with so many private-label opportunities. But there is also significant opportunity in real seafood products and all-natural formulations in dips. We've definitely seen a migration in that direction," says Alfano.

The private-label accounts tend to favor seafood dips that have a proven track record in Fortune Foods' branded line, but there are often requests for new flavor profiles or adjustments to popular flavors.

The recession may have helped seafood dip manufacturers, since consumers are eating out less at restaurants and spending more at supermarkets. "Despite the slow times, sales are still good," Alfano says. "But we're always budget-conscious and looking 
for efficiencies."

Future Foods recently purchased labelling equipment that allows the company to eliminate a third-party labeller. "We can launch a new line or new items in half the time, just by having our own labelling equipment," Alfano says. "It saves us money, too, and we can pass those cost savings on to our customers, even in these difficult times."

Phillips Foods in Baltimore used the recession as an opportunity to return to cleaner labels in its ingredient formulations.

"The economic situation has forced us to go back to basics, creating higher quality products and more value," says Dennis Gavagan, Phillips' corporate executive chef. "We didn't want to develop dips with a whole lot of chemicals, so we manage shelf life by pH level instead of the chemical shelf-life extenders used by our competition."

Phillips' seafood dips tend toward flavor profiles that blend contemporary and traditional, such as Chesapeake Crab Dip, Buffalo Crab Dip, Honey Chipotle Shrimp and Cuban Black Bean Shrimp.

Figures from Datassential indicate that crab accounts for over half of all seafood dips offered on menus, with a 53 percent distribution share. Shrimp follows with a 20 percent share, while other seafood dips, such as crawfish, salmon, scallop, tuna, tilapia and clam account for only 10.8 percent of menu penetration.

In supermarkets, Phillips has used in-store demonstrations as an opportunity to show consumers the versatility of dips.

"We use them for fillers in a wrap sandwich, as the base topping for pizzas and as dips for warm, soft pretzels," Gavagan says. "Mostly, people heat the dip and serve it with crusty bread 
or croutons."

The dips have a 21-day shelf life when refrigerated and can also be frozen. "People are much more price-conscious now," says Gavagan. "We're going back to comfort food, putting in the best ingredients we can find and keeping our philosophy of good value for price paid."

Those sentiments are echoed by Gil Oren, VP of marketing at Tryst Gourmet in Port Washington, N.Y. The two-year-old company has six seafood dips featuring lobster and crab, and during the recession, Tryst moved from a round to a rectangular dip container. "It's much more efficient for shipping," says Oren.

When the price of lobster dropped this year, Tryst opted to improve its products rather than taking a better margin. "We increased the amount of lobster in our recipes by 30 percent, but kept the price the same," Oren says. Maine lobster and shrimp dip is the most popular product, and all Tryst's dips have a shelf life of 45 days from production.

While it's too early to tell if the strategy has increased sales, he is confident Tryst will see positive results. "People are raising the bar on the food they consume. They want to know that when they're buying a lobster dip, it contains premium product. They don't want to see lobster last on the list of ingredients," he says.


Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia


Featured Supplier

Company Category