« December 2009 Table of Contents
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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