Economy Impacting Seafood Consumption

seafoodAmericans' consumption of seafood has stalled, mainly because restaurant visits are down--and in the U.S., about 70% of seafood consumption takes place in restaurants, according to a new report from Packaged Facts titled "U.S. Market for Seafood, With a Focus on Fresh."

Rising seafood prices certainly have not helped. Confusion over labeling, contamination fears and lack of knowledge about how to cook fish are also contributing factors.

The average American ate 16.3 pounds of fish and shellfish in 2007--a 1% decline from 2006's 16.5 pounds, according to a NOAA Fisheries Service study. Americans consumed a total of 4.908 billion pounds of seafood in 2007, slightly less than 2006's 4.944 billion pounds. However, the United States' rank as the world's third-largest consumer of fish and shellfish (behind China and Japan) has not changed.



Of the total of 16.3 pounds consumed per person, Americans ate 12.1 pounds of fresh and frozen finfish and shellfish, down 0.2 pounds from 2006. Consumption of fish fillets and steaks averaged five pounds per person, down 0.2 pounds from 2006. However, canned seafood (primarily canned tuna), which is both cheaper and easier to prepare, remained at 3.9 pounds per person.

Packaged Facts expects consumption to remain flat in 2009 as the recession continues.

While consumption was showing some uptick when the economy was better, seafood is not a big part of many Americans' diets. Less than 40% say they shop for fresh (including frozen) seafood at their primary grocery stores at least once a month, just 4% do so at least once a week and nearly a third (32%) never shop for fresh seafood, according to the 2008 Food Marketing Institute Grocery Shopper Trends survey.

Not surprisingly, seafood restaurants are also affected by the current economy. Red Lobster's sales for the fiscal year ending in May totaled $2.63 billion, a 1.1% gain in comparable-unit terms. Seafood QSRs have fared better: Yum Brands' third-quarter '08 profits were up 5%, for example.

Going forward, however, PF's analysts point to several factors that should produce growth for the seafood category, including increasing awareness of the health benefits of seafood; the growth of aquaculture, which may help bring prices down and increase availability; country of origin labeling that has calmed consumers' fears about contamination; and the growth of population segments that are bigger-than-average consumers of fish, including Latino and Asian Americans and older (50+) consumers.

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