In the midst of a global pandemic that shows no sign of abating, with more Americans seeking ideas for healthy home cooked meals, the seafood industry is going all out to address this need with new recipes, tutorial videos and meal packages.
“There is a huge opportunity here,” said Gregg Jeffers, of Groton’s Inc., the largest domestic frozen seafood brand, during a virtual roundtable of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s All Hands On Deck event Tuesday, Nov. 10.
“We have a really great opportunity to consumers who have come to frozen seafood, including the health aspect, consumers eating at home and taking more time to cook,” he said. “There are huge opportunities to help them get more comfortable with seafood. U.S. consumption of seafood over the last 10 years has been flat. Now is the time to connect with those consumers.”
The virtual three-day conference continued through Thursday, Nov. 12.
Jeffers and others on the panel spoke of opportunities in new foods to go, easy to prepare recipes with fewer ingredients, the introduction of new recipe cards and video instructions via the Internet, all to build consumer confidence in preparing tasty seafood entrees at home.
“For 27 years customers did not know how to use seafood, but somewhere around May 2 people figured it out,” said Guy Puzzuti, of Publix Supermarkets. “Seafood consumption grows when there is disposable income. If and when the second (pandemic) stimulus package happens, look to see how purchases jump.”
“Innovation in seafood lies in the consumer’s own imagination,” said Peter Vasil, category manager for beef and Seafood at Sysco Canada.
“Alaska seafood will keep you coming back,” Vasil said. “Alaska seafood is one of the purist center-of-the-plate proteins on the planet.”
Keith Bunell, director for Nordstrom, the department store chain, noted that people are getting used to picking up foods to go.
“Meals that are take and bake will continue to be big,” he said.
“To make seafood more user friendly at the hoe end you have to simplify it, remove some ingredients. We are investing in recipe cuts, spice kits, recipe cards.”
An example of simplified, creative use of seafood, he said, is the king crab deviled egg.
In other years, ASMI has attracted a number of people in the seafood industry to its All Hands On Deck event in Anchorage, but this year, as a caution in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the whole event has gone virtual, with ASMI offering speakers online and copies of all meeting reports added to its website.
Megan Rider, ASMI’s domestic marketing director, agreed with the roundtable panel members that there has been an unprecedented boom in retail seafood sales as more consumers are avoiding public spaces and seeking meals via take-out or cooking from scratch at home.
“Both brick and mortar and ecommerce have thrived during COVID-19 as consumers are now stoking their fridges and pantries at home with frozen and shelf stable canned items, instead of dining out,” she said in her report to the conference.
The ASMI team, in turn, partnered with Chef Barton Seaver to create canned salmon webinars on the platform Rouxbe to educate both trade and consumers on benefits of booking with canned salmon, Rider said. ASMI is also working with retailers, including Publix on virtual cooking classes featuring Alaska seafood chef ambassadors marrying food service with retail.
Next ASMI revamped its Cook It Frozen campaign with a refreshed logo, new recipes and tutorial videos featuring sockeye salmon, Alaska Pollock, halibut and cod being prepared roasted, grilled, bakes, air fried poached and in an instant pot.
ASMI’s foodservice program covers a broad spectrum, ranging from restaurant operators to colleges and universities, healthcare establishments and more in the U.S. and Canada.
One silver lining, as restaurants struggled to cope during the pandemic, has been take-out and delivery, Rider said.
ASMI’s fiscal year 2021 integrated program is built around key insights in to how COVID has changed our audiences’ attitudes toward food and seafood, and interaction with traditional and digital media, while taking into account how the larger media landscape has changed, said Ashley Heimbigner, communications director for ASMI in her conference report.
Complete copies of reports from Rider, Heimbigner and others are at alaskaseafood.org.