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Special Feature: Batter up

Consumers want healthy, convenient versions of fish 'n' chips at home

Suppliers say demand is up for more-natural battered
    and breaded fish products. - Photo courtesy of Trident Seafoods
By Lauren Kramer
February 01, 2010

Americans love their breaded and battered seafood, but they're making new demands of this value-added convenience food. These days, consumers are increasingly seeking out low-sodium and low-fat products and also are looking for cleaner product labels with an ingredient list they can comprehend.

"It's very difficult to eliminate absolutely everything that's chemical­-sounding," says John van Amerongen, director of marketing and communications at Trident Seafoods in Seattle. "For us, natural means focusing on ingredients you'd find in Granny's cupboard, and we're looking for cleaner ingredients that still maintain their functionality. But frankly, it's going to be hard to get away from the use of some phosphates that help maintain moisture and mouthfeel in frozen items."

Manufacturers of retail products have reason to be happy: Sales of frozen, breaded seafood increased by 10.1 percent for the 52-week period ending Oct. 31, 2009, according to figures from The Nielsen Co., while frozen, breaded shrimp was up 4.9 percent for the same period. Other frozen, breaded seafood - including calamari, clams, crabs, oysters, scallops and shrimp - decreased in dollar and volume.

The demand for breaded and battered products with more-natural ingredients is increasing, and sales for 
these items are strong, reports Mark Lamothe, VP of sales and marketing at 
Good Harbor Fillet in Gloucester, Mass.

"We're taking all the chemical-sounding stuff out and putting in things people can understand," he says. "We've just developed some retail products positioned as seafood that is better for you, entirely natural, with no additives in the fish, breadings or sauces. The demand has been strong, not just from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, but also from major warehouse clubs, particularly Costco."

Good Harbor Fillet reduced the sodium content on many of its products by adding more natural-flavor seasonings and discontinuing the use of sodium tripolyphosphate in products branded under the company name.

"Sodium tripolyphosphate is used as a preservative to retain moisture in fish, but we can accomplish that with NutraPure™, a protein isolate that allows us to also reduce fat by 30 percent in breaded applications," Lamothe says.

The company has used NutraPure™ for the past four years in about 20 percent of its products, primarily those under the Good Harbor Fillet brand.

When the federal government recently added fish for the first time in the school lunch commodity program, it was a significant coup for Good Harbor Fillet. "We lobbied hard to get them to do that, and the reason they did was because of the NutraPure™ products," Lamothe says. "We're the only company that can do a reduced-fat fried product, which means we're the only provider qualified in the school lunch program. It's a big piece of our business now, and it's only going to get bigger."

Trident recently introduced a low-fat, non-par-fried coating called HeartSmart™, which has been well received in health-conscious markets where low-fat, oven-baked seafood items are top priorities. "The advantage is that you don't add extra fat in a par-frying process; the product has reduced fat, but it still crisps up nicely in the oven," van Amerongen says.

But not all markets want that, he adds. "There's a lot of fish-fry tradition out there and plenty of Americans who find comfort in hot oil. When you order fish and chips at a tavern, for example, you don't ask them to bake it."

For calorie-conscious consumers, Trident also offers the Ultimate Fish Stick, a product with reduced breading and 170 calories for three fish sticks.

"Whitefish is naturally high in protein and low in fat, and if you don't bury it with breading, it's still very healthy," van Amerongen says. "Our fish sticks deliver 12 grams of protein per serving, which is pretty good for a breaded, wild seafood product, as it's not much more than a container of yogurt."

All Trident's retail breaded and battered products can be fried or oven-baked, and that's a critical feature. "If they're not dual purpose, they're not going to sell," van Amerongen says. Oven-baked seafood products are particularly important in military mess halls, schools and healthcare cafeterias, where fryers are gathering dust.

These foodservice customers are also finding a solution in glazed and sauced seafood products. "The profile of glazed and sauced products can be healthy or sweet or spicy, and they can fit a variety of regional tastes," van Amerongen says. Trident offers a Thai-chili or sesame-teriyaki salmon, as well as Caribbean and Mediterranean cod. "They're very tasty and popular, but it's hard to compare them to a breaded and battered product."

Despite the recession, the popularity of breaded and battered products has remained consistent, in large part because the product category has always been considered a convenient way to eat seafood.

"When you think of fish and chips it's a food that everyone understands," van Amerongen says. "Breaded and battered fish portions are easy to prepare. You can hold them in your fingers, kids can dip them in ketchup and adults can enjoy them with tartar sauce or salsa. It's an institution throughout the country."

 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia

 

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