Seafood rides the wave of sales increases during the pandemic

Pandemic-induced food shortages have Americans turning to seafood

FOX Business correspondent Ashley Webster details the consumer trend on ‘After The Bell’

From canned goods to comfort food to toilet paper rolls to booze, the pandemic has shifted the way our pantries look. One category of food making its way into the list of inventory staples is an industry that might be less than expected. As a result of pandemic-related beef and chicken shortages, fresh seafood like shrimp is seeing a lift in popularity.

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The seafood craze is providing hope for local shrimpers who are trying to cash in on the new demand. One of the marketing strategies that they are pitching is what many modern-day consumer habits require: quality and nutrition.

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“Years ago people bought based on price,” Superior Seafoods President Ernie Donini told FOX Business. “I think today people buy based on what they taste and the quality. I think based on that, yes, we are coming back as far as American households are concerned. They’re buying more of our product- domestic product.”

Around 90% of shrimp are imported from farms in Southeast Asia due to cheaper labor and lax standards and regulations, but the buyers are starting to drift towards American-farmed catches. .

“A lot of the shrimp consumed in America comes from Asia. They say that’s a mistake,” FOX Business’s Ashely Webster told "After the Bell" from a shrimping boat in Tampa, Fla. “The one message that I’ve heard from the people here of course is they want consumers to buy US shrimp.”

In just the past year, frozen seafood sales overall saw a 25% uptick compared to 2019, according to market research firm IRI. During the holiday season of 2020, seafood sales at U.S. supermarkets and other food retailers jumped 26% from a year prior, following a year of robust sales compared with grocery store sales as a whole.

The surge can also be attributed to the closure of restaurants amid the pandemic, which makes up a large portion of Americans’ spending on seafood.

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Out of the $102.2 billion that consumers spent on fish products in 2017, $69.6 billion came from restaurants and other foodservice venues, according to a report from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. Meanwhile, only $32.5 billion in sales came from retail for at-home consumption.

“The margins are very thin, and when a pandemic shuts down restaurants, one of your top customers, it’s not easy,” Webster told "After the Bell."

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The actual numbers of restaurants requiring and ordering dropped 70% in 2020, according to Webster. On the flip side, however, takeaway and delivery for seafood, particularly shrimp, grew 270%.

The big increase in online grocery shopping has also driven up sales, with e-commerce seafood sales tripling in 2020.

“People are getting educated about what is available to them,” ACF Tampa Chef Rene Marquis told FOX Business. “And when we were at a shortage in the grocery stores, there was no chicken, there was no beef, there was no pork. People started to eat more seafood.”

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