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Retail Report: Tilapia makes huge gains

Study shows retail consumers seek seafood sales, promotions

June 01, 2010

Consumers continue to seek value in their grocery purchases as the economy recovers, and it appears that fresh fish is on the rebound. Finfish was the largest category in the seafood department, accounting for 35.2 percent of seafood department sales during the 52 weeks ending Feb. 27.

Nationally, weekly finfish dollar sales averaged $2,191 per store, a 7.8 percent increase from the previous year, making finfish first in weekly per-store sales within fresh fish. Salmon, the largest of all finfish species in terms of sales, posted $783 in weekly store sales, a 6.1 percent increase from the previous year, while tilapia, continually increasing in popularity, was up 19.1 percent to $318 in average weekly sales.

The finfish category had above-average dollar sales duringLent last year: March 7 through April 11. Finfish average weekly sales peaked the week ending Feb. 20, 2009, at $2,768 per-store, or 26.3 percent above the annual average. The weeks ending March 7, 2009, and April 11, 2009, posted the second- and third-highest average sales with $2,712 and $2,705, respectively.

Finfish average weekly dollar sales were up from the prior year in all regions. The South (up 8.4 percent) and Central (up 8.2 percent) regions drove the increase. While the West and East regions also experienced increases in per-store-per-week sales, up 7.6 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively. Finfish in both the Central and the West regions outpaced the total United States in dollar contribution to the seafood department, contributing 39.9 percent in the Central region and 37.6 percent in the West. Finfish contributed 34.3 percent in the East and 33.2 percent in 
the South.

Five-year national historical average weekly dollar trends (projected to 100 percent ACV) have increased 26.6 percent since 2005. Tilapia has grown in popularity in that time, increasing weekly per-store sales dollars 95 percent since 2005.


Loyalty-card insights

In early 2009, a research project by 
the Perishables Group identified various value-seeking strategies by consumers. The research firm also partnered with two retailers, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, to gather consumer loyalty-card data from 200,000 households and conduct 1,600 in-store shopper intercepts. When comparing overall purchasing behaviors for finfish from 2009 compared to 2008, it is clear that most consumers have persisted in actively seeking out value.

One way shoppers seek value is through sales and promotions. Some shoppers at the West Coast retailer bought cod/scrod, salmon, trout, catfish and tilapia less frequently during the first three quarters in 2009 compared to the previous year, but they bought more per purchase trip when they did buy. This behavior is characteristic of consumers waiting for deals and then stocking up on the items for freezing and future use.

Another way consumers sought value was to limit their purchase amounts to only buy what they absolutely need, especially on high-priced items. At the West Coast retailer, consumers purchased halibut (usually a high-priced species) more often than in the past year, but bought less quantity during each purchase occasion. Consumers likely did not want to fully give up halibut, but perhaps settled for smaller-sized portions than in the past.

Consumers traded out of finfish species in which they did not find sufficient value. At the Western retailer, households purchased high-priced swordfish and roughy less frequently and in smaller purchase sizes than in the previous year. In the Eastern retailer, households traded out of mid-priced salmon and tilapia. During times of economic instability, switching behavior by consumers is driven by retailer practices around pricing, promotion or 

Overall, finfish sales per transaction grew from the first to the third quarter of 2009 when compared to the previous year. The Eastern retailer's average finfish transaction size was up 7 percent to $8.91. Transaction size was flat for the Western retailer, at an average of $10.62 over the three quarters compared to 2008. Posting steady or 
increasing sales during a recession, especially for a relatively high-priced protein, is a testament to consumers' desire to choose a fresh and healthy center-plate protein.


This sales review is provided by the Perishables Group in Chicago, an independent consulting firm focused on innovation and creating value for clients in the fresh food industry. Reported results are for March 1, 2009, through Feb. 27, 2010, and were compiled from grocery stores nationwide, representing 63.1 percent of national supermarket ACV share. For more information, contact Kelli Beckel at (773) 929-7013, e-mail: KelliB@perishablesgroup.com .


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