Forget plain old frozen fish sticks. At Mississauga, Ont.-based Tree of Life, it’s all about basa, a type of catfish.
Tree of Life (which acquired Green Ocean Seafood Products last year in order to expand its seafood capabilities) is introducing tikka masala marinated basa portions, as well as Indian curry-flavoured and sriracha-flavoured basa nuggets. These new introductions cater to consumers looking for a more adventurous fish fix that’s also convenient and easy to cook.
The company says it’s responding to a desire for value-added seafood products—something gleaned from a study it commissioned last year. “One of the key learnings was that consumers across the country talked about the convenience of buying frozen seafood and the ability to buy a variety of species in the frozen seafood section,” says Glenn Grandy, senior director, seafood, at Tree of Life.
Packaged seafood options are certainly more numerous—and creative—than the bland, breaded fish options that used to dominate the market. They now include such items as fish sausages, salmon jerky, gluten-free seafood pizzas, salmon bacon and snow crab coquille. And they’re resonating with consumers who want to eat less red meat, and want a product that will taste good and be easy to handle.
Indeed, a 2017 Nielsen study revealed that 20% of Canadian consumers said they intended to add more fish and seafood to their diets. Nielsen’s recent data shows that fresh seafood sales in Canada were $657 million in the latest 52 weeks ending July 21, 2018, while frozen seafood sales were $53 million—and both rose by 1% from the previous year.
Carson Bonina, store manager at Stong’s Market in North Vancouver, says many shoppers have entered a better comfort zone with seafood, thanks, in part, to the growth in value-added options. “In the past, cooking seafood was intimidating for most consumers, with only the most well-versed cooks choosing to purchase seafood at the meat counter,” says Bonina. “With the growing popularity of value-added products, it has allowed seafood to become accessible to all types of consumers.”
Sal Battaglia, vice-president of sales and marketing at Vaughan, Ont.-based Seacore Seafood, agrees. “By eliminating the consumer’s fear of handling fish and seafood or the fear of not being able to cook the seafood properly, we can meet the consumer’s demands.”
MARKET NEEDS SOME MOMENTUM
While new offerings are emerging, sales of these value-added products could be higher, says Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Toronto-based Nourish Food Marketing. “While the fresh seafood market is growing, the value-added market at retail has stalled,” she explains. “It was increasing in-line with population, but in the past year it declined by 1%.”
To push sales of value-added seafood products, she says grocers need to ensure their offerings are as healthy as possible, offering fewer breaded and battered fish products. “Grocers and processors need to make it fast and simple to prepare while maintaining its health properties.”
And while grocery HMR (home meal replacement) sections have done a better job offering other proteins, says McArthur, seafood seems underrepresented. “Where are those easy options in-store?” she says. “Prepared foods? Platters? Deli? Ready-to-assemble poke bowls?”
Nielsen research backs up this idea, with a recent report on seafood out of the United States noting that meal kits could be the next big platform for seafood innovation. As in-store meal kit sales rise, “retailers could very easily bring seafood into this rapidly growing grocery option, especially since 29% of meal kit users say they eat more seafood with meal kits,” according to the report.
Battaglia admits the value-added seafood market is still developing. “This market is one that has taken quite a bit of time to develop in the seafood industry, but it is one that seems to be picking up steam recently,” he says. Battaglia believes the key to growing it is ensuring the products taste good and are easy to prepare. “As long as we can still keep the price point friendly, this market will continue to grow in the future.”