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What's in Store: Freezers gain favor
Supermarkets benefit from rising frozen seafood sales
By Christine Blank
April 01, 2009
Consumers looking to save money but still eat healthfully
are turning to frozen seafood items more and more.
Picking up on this trend, retailers are expanding branded
and private-label frozen seafood selections.
"People are buying differently than before. Our fresh fish
sales are down, while our frozen sales are up," says Joe Lane,
store manager and seafood director at Casey's Market in Western
"People are interested in quick and easy. They want
something they can put in the microwave and go on their way,"
says Marty Gaul, seafood buyer and merchandiser for Heinen's
Fine Foods, a 17-store chain in Warrensville Heights, Ohio.
Total frozen fish and seafood sales are up, according to
Infoscan Reviews, published by Information Resources Inc.,
which shows an overall sales gain of 5.6 percent in all frozen
fish and seafood items, excluding frozen shrimp products, for
the 52 weeks ending Jan. 25, 2009.
Still, frozen shrimp sales are strong, up 2.7 percent for
the same time period, to $1.1 billion, says IRI.
"In the frozen seafood category, our best performers
continue to be frozen shrimp, both raw and cooked. Shrimp is
very easy to prepare, for most consumers," says Cecil Smith,
manager of seafood merchandising and training for Bloom, a
banner of Food Lion in Salisbury, N.C., which is a division of
Delhaize Group, Brussels.
Seafood entrées have experienced the highest sales growth
over the last year, according to The Nielsen Co.'s research of
sales in all food, drug and mass merchandise outlets, excluding
Wal-Mart. Sales of combination two-food frozen seafood entrée
packages (seafood entrées plus one side dish) jumped 38.9
percent to $43.3 million for the 52-week period, compared to
the same period a year ago, says Nielsen.
As a result, grocers have expanded their entrée offerings.
Winn-Dixie Stores in Jacksonville, Fla., for example, in late
January launched a line of frozen seafood dinners under its
Winn-Dixie Fisherman's Wharf brand. The dinners, which average
$6.99 for a 22- to 27.2-ounce bag, come in six varieties that
include Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo.
In addition, Winn-Dixie, Gorton's, SeaPak and Bird's Eye
donated a portion of sales to Feeding America: The Nation's
Food Bank Network when Winn-Dixie shoppers bought products in
March, National Frozen Food Month.
A variety of Tastee Choice seafood entrées, such as shrimp
with linguini, are selling well at Heinen's Fine Foods, says
Gaul. The meals retail for an average of $6.99 each.
"I believe [steady sales] is because the restaurant business
is down, but people are still looking for restaurant-quality
food," adds Gaul.
In addition, High Liner Foods' Sea Cuisine line of frozen
seafood, including tilapia, salmon, cod and shrimp, has been
selling very well in Heinen's stores.
The biggest frozen sales gainer in Casey's Market store is
Pacific Seafood's Starfish brand of gluten-free breaded cod and
halibut. "One of our best products is a breaded halibut: We are
selling tons of it. It is inexpensive, compared to fresh
halibut, and Celiac disease is becoming more common," says
Lane. The gluten-free branded halibut retails for an average of
$11 per 12-ounce box.
While frozen seafood entrées and specialty products are hot,
sales of many fish fillets and seafood products are also
increasing steadily. Nielsen's "all other frozen, unbreaded
seafood items except crab" category, experienced a 12 percent
climb in sales to $58.2 million for the 52-week period ending
Jan. 25. In addition, sales of unbreaded frozen fish products
rose 11.2 percent to $346.6 million during the same time
period, according to Nielsen.
United Supermarkets based in Lubbock, Texas, a chain of
nearly 50 stores, is finding that consumers are much more
interested in frozen plain and breaded seafood items than
As a result, United has upped its selection of frozen,
private-label shrimp, tilapia, catfish and catfish nuggets in
its stores that have a higher surrounding population of
"Frozen seafood sales are up. We put 3-pound to 5-pound bags
of tilapia fillets and catfish nuggets in the freezer with a
price tag and our lower-end customers have been picking those
up," says Scott Nettles, director of meat and seafood for
United's private-label frozen catfish, supplied by Seattle
Fish of New Mexico, has been particularly popular this year
because of the price difference compared to fresh, says
Nettles. While fresh catfish fillets typically retail for
between $5.99 and $6.99 a pound in United stores, the frozen
version retails for between $2.99 and $3.99 a pound.
United and other supermarket chains emphasizing their frozen
seafood offerings - especially value-priced items - may have
the right idea. Lower-income shoppers are the fastest-growing
income group in the United States and are expected to generate
$84 billion in incremental spending over the next decade,
according to a recent IRI report.
"Lower-income households are one of the hottest
opportunities in the marketplace and will provide real growth
for those who want to truly learn about the micro-segments and
their changing behaviors, due to the economy," says Thom
Blischok, president of IRI Consulting and Innovation.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary,