« March 2009 Table of Contents
Spotlight: Seafood burgers
Burgers fill demand for healthful food that's easy to prepare
By Lauren Kramer
March 01, 2009
Consumer desire to eat healthful foods and ease of
preparation are just two reasons seafood burgers have become
more popular in the past decade. Seafood burger menu mentions
were up slightly in 2008 to 4 percent, from 2.5 percent in
2006, according to the Datassential research firm in
The predominant fish used in seafood burgers today is
salmon. Thanks to positive press about the health benefits of
eating salmon, the burger's popularity remains strong. Salmon
represents 60 percent of all seafood burgers on restaurant
menus, notes Datassential.
"Consumers truly believe in the health benefits of eating
wild salmon," says John van Amerongen, spokesperson for Trident
Seafoods in Seattle, which introduced its salmon burger made
with pink salmon to the market in 2002. A couple of years ago,
when the pink salmon run was weak in Southeast Alaska, the
company modified its burger by adding keta or chum salmon to
the raw material mix.
Commercially favored for its roe, keta flesh is paler than
most other salmon species and as a result, typically lower
"But it still has a delicate salmon flavor," says van
Amerongen. "Our decision to use chum salmon turned out to be a
happy necessity since it expanded our raw material options for
the item, and we can adjust the inputs to meet supply and
market fluctuations. Using chums gave us a hedge against low
returns of pink salmon, for example in 2006, when more chums
returned to Southeast Alaska than pink salmon."
The wild Alaskan salmon burger is one of Trident's most
popular retail products. The reason, in part, is the product's
convenience and ease of use, he speculates. On a barbecue grill
at medium high, Trident salmon burgers cook from frozen in
three-to-four minutes on each side, or only nine minutes in a
conventional oven at 400 degrees F, says van Amerongen.
"There's no rocket science necessary in the kitchen, and
they taste great every time. That makes it a tough combination
to resist if you want to eat healthy and you're in a hurry -
and everyone's in a hurry."
In addition to its salmon burgers, Trident also offers wahoo
and mahimahi burgers, which it introduced to the market in 2004
and 2006, respectively.
"These varieties offer a classy tropical alternative for our
foodservice customers who are looking for the same convenience
in the kitchen, but want to offer a more exotic, unique species
to meet with a particular theme they've got going, such as
tropical or Latin," he says.
As a more familiar species, salmon burger sales far exceed
those of the wahoo and mahi burgers, but van Amerongen is
optimistic about their market potential.
"We've seen a lot more mahi on menus over the last couple of
years, and we're hoping restaurants will see how easy it is to
add mahi to the menu with the burger now available," he
When seafood burgers were first introduced to the market,
they were composed of by-product such as trim, says Tom
Sunderland, director of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods,
also in Seattle.
"Byproduct is still used in some cases, but we use whole
fish sides as well. Today, sales expansion and increased
consumer expectations have forced manufacturers to upgrade the
product and focus more on the end user," says Sunderland.
Since 1992, Ocean Beauty has offered breaded and non-breaded
burgers, the latter made from Alaska salmon, primarily pinks
and chums. "As far as we know, these are the only widely
available salmon burgers made from fresh fish, and we're
aggressively expanding our retail, foodservice and customizable
product offerings," says Sunderland.
The category is showing signs of healthy growth, with
several retailers selling private-label salmon burgers.
"There is a very active all-natural emphasis for the
non-fish ingredients, an emphasis on non-fried or battered
products and an increasing emphasis on the health benefits of
eating seafood in general and salmon in particular," Sunderland
SeaPak Shrimp Co. based in Saint Simons Island, Ga., is one
of the most recent players to join the seafood burger category,
introducing its salmon burger at club stores in January last
year and at supermarkets in May.
"At retail, salmon remains the predominant seafood burger in
the frozen section," says Mary Eva Tredway, spokesperson for
SeaPak. "There is some variety in the fresh seafood section
such as shrimp burgers, but these haven't made it to the frozen
aisle at this time."
The company anticipates its strong sales will continue as
product awareness increases. "We predict that salmon burgers
will become a popular staple alongside [the company's] beef
counterpart in a few years," she says. "After all, they are a
delicious and nutritious alternative to the beef hamburger, but
with a significantly lower calorie count and lots of
However, the product category has not been immune to rising
ex-vessel prices, fuel costs and the effects of the recession.
Compared to last year, the price of pink and chum salmon has
increased substantially, says van Amerongen.
"Since our salmon burgers are all flesh, with no fillers or
odds and ends, their price had to go up, too. Fuel costs and
transportation increased as well and that's driving all seafood
prices up at a time when consumers are worried about the
economy and choosing their purchases carefully," says van
With a club-store salmon burger priced at less than $1.10
per 4-ounce patty, "They're still a great value," he adds.
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British