According to a recent study, the amount of seafood served in restaurants has been declining since 2008. The trend has left the seafood category scrambling to find innovative ways to draw consumers. 

The research from the NPD Group, a market research firm, reports there has been a 2 percent decrease in servings of seafood throughout the restaurant industry this year. This follows a 1 percent decrease in 2010, a 6 percent decrease in 2009, and a 1 percent decrease in 2008.

One of the major reasons for this downward trend, the report suggests, has been the struggling economy, which has forced consumers to limit the amount they spend on outside-the-home dining.

As a result, quick serves have taken a hard look at the value they offer, balancing the quality and quantity consumers get for their dollar.

“There is a group of consumers out there that still love fried seafood,” says Monte Jump, executive vice president of marketing for Captain D’s. “Creating a value message can help keep consumption at a reasonable level.”

Fast food restaurants could also respond to seafood’s fall by giving the consumer a reason to try it. Using seafood as a flavor carrier for new sauces, for example, or using new entrée preparation methods are ways to increase consumption, Jump says.   

One of the bright spots in NPD's analysis is consumption numbers for nonfried seafood servings that are grilled, broiled, baked, or raw. These servings increased overall by 1 percent for the year ending March 2011.

This stems from Baby Boomer consumers who are demanding healthier options, says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst, which she expects to continue over the next decade.

“This is a big opportunity for restaurant operators because consumers really don't like to prepare seafood, they don't know how to, and they don't know how to buy it and are always concerned about whether it is fresh or not,” Riggs says. “Consumers are going to want more seafood [and] they are going to want it from restaurants.”

Jump says fried seafood, which accounts for the vast majority of quick-serve seafood products, could indeed be a cause of concern for the industry.

“People are more health-conscious these days,” he says. “Our core consumer is the 50-plus [consumer], and health and wellness is one of their key concerns in life, so it does not surprise me at all that it has declined. Frankly, it would not surprise me if it continues.”

To put the brakes on the fall, though, Jump suggests seafood quick serves offer seafood in lighter meals, such as salads and wraps, or add grilled or broiled seafood items to menus.

“As the [quick-serve] industry continues to develop healthier and nutritious options, I would expect to see a growing trust among consumers leading to more seafood opportunities,” says Mike Bush, owner of Endeavor Seafood in Rhode Island, which supplies quick serves with seafood.

“The longer-term outlook for seafood consumption is very positive … consumers understand the health benefits of eating seafood.”

By Brendan O'Brien

Growth, News, Captain D's