The decline in seafood servings at U.S. restaurants has less to do with natural and man-made disasters such as the Gulf Oil spill and more to do with the economy and priceaccording to The NPD Group, a leading market research company. NPD’s foodservice market research finds that total seafood and fried seafood servings have been declining for several years while servings of non-fried seafood have increased over the last two years. 

Commercial foodservice seafood consumption declined by 2 percent versus flat total restaurant industry traffic for the year ending March 2011, according to NPD’s CREST service, which continually tracks consumer use of foodservice outlets. The decline is a continuation of a longer-term slip in seafood servings. Prior years ending in March and going back to 2007 find total seafood servings declining by 1 percent in 2007, 1 percent in 2008, 6 percent in 2009, and 1 percent in 2010.  

“The recession was when a notable reduction occurred in seafood consumption with consumers trading down and out of the market,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “Then and now, the matter of the price of a seafood meal may have influenced cautious, controlled spenders to switch to other entrees or lower price point outlets.”  

Non-fried seafood, such as salmon and sushi, is an exception in the seafood category. While servings of fried seafood experienced the steepest declines, CREST tracking finds that demand for non-fried fish that is grilled, broiled, baked, or raw posted growth in this latest year and prior to the recession. Servings of total non-fried fish increased by 1 percent for year ending March 2011, salmon servings grew by 1 percent, and sushi by 4 percent.

As noted in the recent NPD topical report, Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat, cooking method ranks among the top features in the definition of healthful eating, and the cooking method of most importance was shown to be grilled. The fastest growing segment of the population, those 50 and older, were most inclined to mention cooking method when describing characteristics of a healthful meal, and this age group are heavier consumers of seafood than those that are younger.

“The growth in non-fried seafood servings suggests consumers are making health-conscious decisions in their seafood selections,” Riggs says. “With the attention healthful eating is being given by public and private sector initiatives, restaurant operators may see this as a good opportunity to assess their seafood menu offerings in order to meet their consumers’ interests and needs.”

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