« November 2006 Table of Contents
Producers focus on quality and consumer education to
expand the analog market
- Rick Ramseyer
November 01, 2006
Surimi seafood, another name for imitation crab, lobster or
other types of shellfish, can be a tasty addition to everything
from salads and sandwiches to dips, soups and casseroles.
The trouble is, most Americans don't buy surimi seafood - or
even know what it is.
Category stakeholders are thus ratcheting up efforts to
educate U.S. consumers about the merits of simulated shellfish.
Strategies include introducing health-oriented products,
emphasizing higher-grade formulations and, in at least one
instance, adding an eco-label.
Moreover, one of the surimi sector's long-time players,
Louis Kemp, was acquired in April by industry heavyweight
Trident Seafoods, which intends to restore a brand that's been
in decline after being held by a series of different
The need to give surimi seafood a prod is apparent from U.S.
consumption figures, which for years have remained in the
ballpark of 170 million pounds at retail.
"There's only one in 10 households, if that, that even
bothers to use [imitation shellfish], so we've got a long, long
way to go," says Michael Faris, president of Shining Ocean in
Sumner, Wash., maker of the Kanimi and Kanimi Deluxe
"But there's a lot of opportunity."
There's already been plenty of jockeying in the marketplace,
as competitors fight to pick up market share from Louis
For the 26 weeks ending Sept. 2, sales of refrigerated or
frozen Louis Kemp-branded surimi seafood fell more than 21
percent, according to ACNielsen retail tracking, while
Trans-Ocean Products and Shining Ocean increased sales by 25.6
percent and 21.4 percent, respectively.
Trans-Ocean recently surpassed Louis Kemp for the first time
as the nation's No. 1 retail surimi-seafood brand.
Through Sept. 2, Trans-Ocean posted 26-week sales of $12.3
million, compared with $10.1 million for Louis Kemp. That
computes to a dollar share of nearly 29.4 percent for
Trans-Ocean and 24.1 percent for Louis Kemp.
"At one time Louis Kemp had a 60 percent market share," says
Louis Shaheen, VP of sales and marketing for Trans-Ocean in
Bellingham, Wash., which makes the Crab Classic line. "So this
is exciting for us."
For 2006, Trans-Ocean will process more than 23 million
pounds of imitation shellfish for retail outlets, where the
best-selling flake style goes for $2.99 for an 8-ounce package.
The company will process another 3 million pounds for the U.S.
units of the Subway sandwich chain in Milford, Conn.
Subway's Seafood Sensation sandwich, which contains 10
percent real crabmeat, is made with Alaska pollock processed by
Trans-Ocean and supplied to Subway by Jana Worldwide in Natick,
Shining Ocean, meanwhile, is on track for 11 percent growth
in 2006, says Faris, citing the use of sales tools such as
retail promotions and countertop sampling. The company also
provides surimi seafood in bulk to Japanese sushi bars, as well
as to processors that make salads destined for
"That's a large portion of our business," Faris says.
Shining Ocean isn't the only company gaining from the salad
Future Food in Carrollton, Texas, which sells seafood
salads, dips and spreads in retail stores nationwide,
introduced the Salads of the Sea party pack. The bundle, priced
around $11.99, features three 12-ounce containers of the
brand's top sellers: Cajun Krab Dip, Seafood Cheese Spread and
Cajun Smoked-Salmon-Flavored Spread.
Platters, too, are a big part of the surimi-seafood lineup
at supermarkets. Stop & Shop, with more than 360 stores in
New England, New York and New Jersey, offers the Imitation
Lobster & Crabmeat Platter for $18.99, boasting 3 pounds of
faux crab and lobster meat.
And Harris Teeter, a 153-unit chain in Matthews, N.C., has
the $39.99 Seafood Sampler, which includes 1 pound each of
simulated crab legs and flakes, plus 2 pounds of shrimp and 8
ounces of cocktail sauce.
Trident weighs in
Trident, long a foodservice force with its SeaLegs surimi
seafood, strengthened its retail position in March by
purchasing Louis Kemp and its production facility in Motley,
Minn., from packaged-food giant ConAgra of Omaha, Neb.
Trident now intends to jumpstart Louis Kemp, known for its
Seafood Delights crab, lobster and scallop blends, by upgrading
formula to include 100 percent Alaska pollock -
with no Pacific whiting - combined with more
It "reverses the trend to cheapen the product, and we think
the market is ready for [one] that works just like crab and
lobster in many, many applications," Trident spokesperson John
van Amerongen wrote in a recent e-mail.
Trident also is putting more marketing muscle behind Louis
Kemp with an on-package coupon and a retail brochure.
"We're convinced [consumers] will like what we've done with
Louis Kemp," van Amerongen wrote, "and they'll want to buy [it]
once they understand our commitment to making it the very best
surimi that's available."
Publicizing the benefits
To spur sales of simulated shellfish, Trans-Ocean is working
with an advertising agency to develop a consumer-focused
marketing campaign that likely will launch next year. The
campaign may include magazine ads and freestanding inserts,
plus regional testing of radio and perhaps TV spots.
"The health aspect of surimi seafood is not being told,"
Shaheen says. "It's low-fat or no-fat, it's omega-3-fortified,
it's low-calorie, it's fully cooked and it's easy to use. It's
Further, Trans-Ocean hopes to capitalize on use of the
Marine Stewardship Council's eco-label on its 8-ounce packages
of flake- and chunk-style imitation crab carried in more than
1,000 Wal-Mart stores, says Shaheen.
MSC's distinctive blue tag "is an easy way for consumers to
identify seafood from fisheries that meet the MSC's strict
environmental standards," Peter Redmond, VP of Wal-Mart Seafood
and Deli, noted in a news release.
Shining Ocean recently introduced the Crab Smart and Lobster
Smart lines, promoted as "a smart, low-fat way to add omega-3
oils and calcium to your diet."
The 12-ounce retail packages sell for around $3.
The company also is testing a crab-flavored, heart-healthy
snack item in a few markets. That effort stems from the success
of Shining Ocean's Shrimp Combo, made with a formula that
includes real crab and shrimp, fortified with omega-3 and
"It's one of the most expensive items in the market [$3.99
for a 12-ounce package]," Faris says, "but it does very well
Surimi seafood is made from the paste of cooked,
mild-flavored whitefish, to which starches, red colorings,
flavorings, binders and stabilizers are added. When it's done
right, industry members say, it's excellent.
But some leading analog suppliers are concerned that
inconsistent quality reflects badly on the whole category. They
say the price of whitefish, which rose by double digits in 2005
and has stayed high, has led some companies to seek cheaper
formulations that contain more water and less fish, or
lower-grade species like itoyori.
A flood of imports from countries such as China has
compounded the problem.
Christian Limberg, national sales manager at Harbor Seafood
in New Hyde Park, N.Y., is concerned that some packers are
sacrificing quality by focusing strictly on price,
impacting consumers' perception.
"Regardless of where the product comes from, you have to
maintain the integrity," says Limberg.
He notes that in 2005, Harbor Seafood sold more than 13
million pounds of simulated shellfish, the vast majority of it
made with domestic whitefish.
Challenges aside, industry representatives stress that
higher-grade surimi seafood, supported by effective marketing,
remains a promising opportunity.
To "get more customers and grow your success, you have to
make a better product, and you have to put some marketing
horsepower behind it," Trident's van Amerongen wrote. "But the
potential for growing and recapturing the category still
exists." - R.R.