Snacks from the sea

Seafood-based munchies—particularly those with a focus on sustainability—are starting to make waves

Photo: River SelectPhoto: River Select

Canadians are hungry for snacks. According to the Ipsos FIVE Canadian Snacking Nation 2018 report, a whopping 67% of food consumption now happens outside of the traditional three meals a day. And with the rise in snacking, of course, comes an increased desire for variety in those snack foods.

Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing, says “protein is hot button” at the moment so there’s a rise in meat snacks, in part, due to the “popularity of paleo, keto, grain-free, and pegan (paleo plus vegan) diets.” And although consumers have expressed a desire to eat more fish, many Canadians avoid traditional seafood fillets because cooking them can be intimidating, says McArthur: “It [fish] can be perfect one minute and rubber the next.”

Put all of this together—a fear of ruining a good seafood dinner combined with the desire to eat more fish, a focus on lean protein for sustained energy, and the predilection to snacking—and the emerging trend of seafood snacks makes complete sense.

For several years, there have been products such as mini-canned tuna snack packs in a variety of flavours (spiced sriracha, sundried tomato, dill), popcorn shrimp, and seaweed-based snacks. But now, there’s an expansion in seafood snack offerings. While beef jerky and other meat-based snacks have been booming in recent years, consumers can now choose fish jerkies, for instance. Popular meat snack company Epic Provisions now offers dehydrated fish snacks such as Smoked Salmon Maple Fillet Strips and Maple Glazed & Smoked Salmon Bites. Meanwhile, U.S.-based Fishpeople has a new Wild Alaskan Salmon Jerky available in flavours such as Rainbow Peppercorn and Sweet + Smoky, in addition to its more traditional seafood product lineup, says Ken Plasse, Fishpeople’s CEO.

“We created this unique jerky to bring the benefits of truly wild protein to the snack aisle,” says Plasse, noting the company’s typical consumer is the millennial who is concerned with health and wellness. And all of Fishpeople’s products are sustainably sourced and traceable, something more and more consumers are looking for in their seafood-related products. “We source our fish from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified fisheries; our supply chain is transparent and 100% North American, which means no mystery fish, guaranteed traceability back to the source, and more jobs in rural coastal communities.”

River Select, a Canadian company owned and operated by a network of First Nations salmon fishing enterprises around British Columbia, is unique because its products come from B.C.’s First Nations river fisheries instead of the ocean, says business manager Dave Moore. Once salmon enters the rivers, their attributes change, he says—the colours of the fish change, becoming less oily and not as dense. “It becomes really hard to market a fish like that as a frozen, vacuum-packed fillet.” So, River Select redirects those salmon that don’t fit the fillet category toward their snack line.

The company offers a locally and sustainably produced Wild Salmon Jerky, as well as candied pink and sockeye salmon—their biggest seller—which is sold in the frozen aisle (presently only in local B.C. stores; River Select is currently looking for Canada-wide retailers to distribute its snack products). QR codes on the products provide consumers with a guarantee of origin and information about specific fishery locations.

What Fishpeople and River Select are doing with their labelling and sustainability isn’t necessarily market standard for seafood products in Canada yet, but today’s consumers definitely want to know where their food is coming from, says Moore. This is especially true when it comes to fish because it is “the most globally traded commodity there is” and not as easily traceable as chicken or beef, says Liane Veitch, Seafood Supply Chain Analyst at SeaChoice, a Canadian seafood sustainability watchdog organization.

Other new and interesting entrants gaining attention in the seafood snacks category include SeaChips, a U.K.-based company that’s been getting tons of press for its innovative salmon skin crisps—crunchy chips made from a part of the fish often thrown away during processing—and plant-based kelp jerky from U.S.-based Akua, popular with vegans.

To make the most of the seafood snack upswing, retailers should consider adding more products like these to their assortment and once they do, inform customers of these items through promotions and sampling. While Whole Foods Market’s trends list for 2019 included “Marine Munchies,” the majority of Canadian retailers contacted for this story said they don’t yet carry many seafood snack offerings. “We do sell some salmon jerky, but it’s not a great seller at this point in time and not something our customers are asking for,” admitted Christy McMullen, co-owner of Toronto’s Summerhill Market, although she did say she planned to explore the trend further. It’s a trend at the beginning of its life that could grow rapidly—as soon as your customers know it’s an option.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’May issue.