DGA may boost seafood consumption

by Allison Gibeson
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Opportunities for growth in the seafood market are especially high following the publication of the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010,” which recommend people replace some of the red meat and poultry they eat with seafood. In addition, consumer concern about health and wellness and their increasing familiarity with the role of omega-3 fatty acids in a healthy diet also provide potential for the market to grow.

The new dietary guidelines encourage people to eat 8 oz of seafood per week, more than twice the current average intake of 3.5 oz per week. One barrier to consumption of seafood is the preparation involved as many consumers don’t know how they may easily incorporate seafood into their diet in an affordable way, said Gavin Gibbons, spokesperson for the National Fisheries Institute.

“Ease of preparation is key for consumers when it comes to seafood,” said Joe Tuza, senior vice-president of marketing, innovation and technical services for the StarKist Co., Pittsburgh, a subsidiary of the Dongwon Group. “They want easy-to-make meals that come out tasting great every time and that can be enjoyed by every member of the family. Food companies have responded to this need.

“For example, at StarKist, we’ve launched our SeaSations line that offers both a frozen white fish fillet – for easy incorporation in recipes – as well as a full entrée with varieties like Mediterranean Tomato and Basil and Teriyaki Orange and Ginger.”

Value-added products throughout the category are doing well, said Mr. Gibbons, and the market has seen innovation recently in canned tuna. As another example of offering ease of preparation, Morey’s Seafood International L.L.C., Minneapolis, offers restaurant-style products for home consumption with marinated and seasoned products. Wholey Seafood, Warren, Mich., offers seven “Boil in the Bag” entrees, and each cooks in 15 minutes or less.

Mr. Gibbons said shrimp is the top seafood product consumed in the U.S. followed by canned tuna. He added that Pangasius is an up-and-coming fish that is becoming more popular.

In terms of sales, the fish and seafood retail market was expected to reach $15.8 billion in 2010, but in comparison red meat sales were anticipated to reach $71.9 billion and poultry sales were $41.4 billion, according to Mintel International, Chicago.

Seafood consumption has been trending downward, Mr. Gibbons said. He added that it may be an issue of competition in the marketplace with red meat and poultry, and some of the barriers to consumption such as convenience.

“Consumers are coming around to the understanding of seafood as a healthy alternative, and it is more and more being discussed in line with things like fruits and vegetables,” Mr. Gibbons said. “There is a clear and concise message now coming from the medical community that just like fruits and vegetables, seafood is a food we need to eat more of.”

There is a learning curve for consumers when becoming familiar with omega-3s and understanding the kind of omega-3s that come from plant-based sources are not the same as DHA and EPA omega-3s that come from seafood.

Another barrier to consumption may be the Gulf oil spill, and the fact more women than men are concerned about food safety after the spill, Mintel said. Yet perhaps one of the most widely cited concerns with seafood is the presence of mercury in the foods. But both Mr. Gibbons and Mr. Tuza believe the new guidelines will help overcome mercury concerns.

“For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have identified seafood as a food that we need to eat more of, which we expect will result in increased seafood consumption,” Mr. Tuza said. “The guidelines also recommend specific quantities, which should help consumers when planning meals.

“The guidelines also reinforce the importance of seafood in the diet of women who are pregnant or breast feeding. By recommending that this population increase their intake of seafood … they call attention to the fact that eliminating seafood altogether from the diet is not healthy … studies show, for example, that because of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA eating seafood during pregnancy can aid in fetal brain and eye development.”

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