3 ways to cater to today’s seafood consumer

Taking tips from the restaurant industry

fish and mango salsa
Photograph: Shutterstock

From High Liner Foods. 

Seafood has long been thought of as a healthier option than some other proteins—the preferred option for those watching their waistlines. But health isn’t the only reason diners choose seafood, and for operators who want to sell more of it, knowing the reasons they do is key.

According to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian report, 65% of consumers overall say they eat seafood occasionally, but that number is a bit higher in diners 35+ years old—71% of that demographic eats seafood occasionally, compared to 56% of diners 18- to 34-years old. Here’s a look at what motivates these consumers to choose seafood options on menus.

Health reigns supreme

Health reasons still proliferate as one of the main reasons why diners choose seafood. According to Technomic’s Seafood and Vegetarian report, 58% of consumers consider seafood to be healthier than beef or pork, and 43% consider it to be healthier than chicken or turkey. For these diners who want to eat healthfully, grilled options or seafood salads are a safe bet, but that doesn’t mean they have to be mundane. Instead of plain grilled fish, up the ante with blackening spice, or top it with a fruit salsa – or both. At Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, a casual dining chain, diners can order the Blackened Salmon with Mango Salsa – a hand-cut salmon fillet blackened and topped with mango salsa, served over seasoned rice and with a garden salad.

Dinnertime wins

While some dishes highlight fish at breakfast or lunch and others are more of an appetizer (think shrimp cocktail), dinner is when most people are ordering seafood—49% of consumers say they order seafood for dinner at least once a week, compared to 32% who order it for lunch and just 11% who get it for breakfast, according to Technomic’s Seafood and Vegetarian report.

Thus, dinner might be the most lucrative daypart for seafood sales. Operators should call out seafood dinner specials to diners when they come into a foodservice location, and to increase participation in earlier dayparts, that same signage should highlight tasty breakfast and lunch options that feature fish. For instance, a smoked salmon bagel sandwich option is perfect for the breakfast crowd. Or, combine the breakfast du jour – avocado toast – with smoked salmon for an elevated option. At Modern Market, a health-focused chain with locations in southern and western U.S., the Everything Toast is multigrain toast topped with avocado, smoked salmon, creme fraiche, red onions, fresh dill and everything spice.

Delicious indulgence

Diners who are looking for a specific seafood dish are a primary target for operators—54% of consumers say the reason they order seafood instead of meat is because they had a craving for a specific item. Knowing that customers’ favorite flavors and preparations is key for appealing to this group who wants something craveable. While the most preferred preparation of both fish and shellfish is grilled, other favorites, according to Technomic, include fried, baked and breaded—57% of consumers prefer fish and shellfish that’s fried, 52% of consumers love baked preparations and 47% want breaded options. And among the top flavors that diners like with seafood dishes are buttery, savory, herbal and spicy. Operators should experiment with different spice blends and dipping condiments to offer diners with these dishes – for instance, at Legal Sea Foods, an upscale casual dining restaurant with locations mostly on the East Coast, crispy tempura smelt is served with yuzu aioli. These unique twists and flavor combinations will keep people coming back for more.

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