« September 2009 Table of Contents
Spotlight: Convenience meals
Steam-based retail products make inroads with seafood suppliers
By Lauren Kramer
September 01, 2009
While an economic recession can mean thin times for many in
the food industry, it can be a boom for those in the retail
convenience meals business.
"People are tending to stay home more for meals, and
value-added convenience meals make the experience of eating in
that much easier," says George Kouri, COO at Sea Star Seafood
in Marlborough, Mass.
Sea Star in April launched its Beacon Light Steam Series,
which consists of a range of microwaveable, flavored, dry
seasoned fish that cooks from frozen in less than five minutes.
The line includes salmon, cod, haddock, tilapia and mahimahi,
all with dry seasoning and no gluten or salt, and is poised for
success, says Kouri.
"It has great nutritional value, is extremely convenient,
offers odor-free cooking because it's microwaveable and makes
the experience of cooking fish, which is sometimes difficult,
extremely easy and consistent," he says.
Beacon Light products use a micropore cooking technology,
which allows cooking vapors to escape through the plastic food
pouch. "It's completely different from what's out there, and
this technology ensures the moistness stays in the fish when
it's cooked," says Kouri. It also means the meal cooks faster
than other products on the market, at an average of
"I think convenience meals will grow and the category will
become increasingly popular, especially in this economy and
with today's lifestyles," Kouri says.
Trident Seafoods in Seattle recently added a flavorful sauce
or marinade to its cod, salmon and tilapia portions.
"We wanted to deliver a pre-sauced, frozen portion that
dresses up the fish in a visual and culinary sense, and takes
the 'what do I do with this?' out of the equation, at least as
far as fish and sauce are concerned," says Trident spokesman
John van Amerongen. "We offer serving suggestions that include
rice and pasta, or plating it on a simple bed of wild greens.
The sauce dresses the side as well."
Trident's retail and foodservice meal line includes Thai
Chili and Sesame Teriyaki Salmon, Mediterranean Cod and Lemon
Herb and Southwest Style Tilapia.
"Judging from the response at the Alaska Symphony of
Seafood, where we won both the retail and foodservice
new-product categories, I'd say the response to our products
has been very positive," says van Amerongen.
"The challenge," he says, "is to develop the various
components so they'll cook from frozen properly, i.e., one with
the other in the same amount of time. If the sauce evaporates
before the fish is done, it's not working as well as it
Given the rushed lifestyle of most consumers, the
opportunity to cook-from-frozen tonight is still a valuable
option. "There are not a lot of folks soaking dry beans
overnight just yet," he says. "Time is still money for
consumers, even if they have more time than money."
According to The Nielsen Co., sales of overall frozen
seafood entrées were up 3 percent to $377.1 million sold during
the 52 weeks ending July 11 in the U.S. food, drug and
mass-merchandiser store channels. During that period, frozen
seafood dinners were down 4.8 percent in dollar sales and down
5.1 percent in unit volume from the prior year.
Most operators are optimistic about the future. "We really
have no idea at this point who will succeed and which products
will succeed," says Tom Sunderland, marketing director at Ocean
Beauty, also based in Seattle. "What we do know, however, is
that we're in the midst of a period of explosive growth,
evidenced by the explosion in new product innovation and
distribution, and by the range of manufacturers and brands that
are jumping into the business."
Ocean Beauty offers a range of convenience meals including
Southwest Salmon, Citrus Herb Salmon, Mandarin Orange Salmon,
Lemon Butter Flounder and Sicilian Tilapia. The company is also
working on another line of microwaveable entrées.
It can be challenging to add seafood to convenience meals
because of fluctuating price points, the seasonal production of
wild species and consumer resistance, because the United States
is not a seafood-eating culture, says Sunderland.
One seafood-based convenience meal that continues to thrive
is sushi, says Devan Nielsen, president of the DNI Group in
Novato, Calif. The company sells softshell crab, nobashi
shrimp, steamed butterflied shrimp and precooked tempura shrimp
to restaurants that make sushi, and Nielsen says the demand for
sushi in high-population centers is growing.
"I think more people in the Midwest are discovering sushi,
that it's a grab-and-go convenience food that is lower in
calories than many other options out there," he says. "Sushi is
becoming a mainstream American food both in restaurants and
retail, and I don't see the demand for it leveling off anytime
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British