Seafood sandwiches are taking over

fish burger
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From High Liner Foods.

Foodservice operators and chefs have long known that seafood is a delicious, healthy alternative to other proteins, and now more consumers are looking toward fish as a way to liven up their diets.

Consider the recent increase in seafood sandwiches on QSR menus. There’s Newk’s Eatery’s Ahi Tuna and Chimichurri sandwich, the King’s Hawaiian Nashville Hot Fish sandwich at Arby’s, Bar Louie’s Blackened Salmon Sliders and a Harissa Salmon Pita at Zoe’s Kitchen, just to name a few. All feature a handheld seafood protein paired with new sauces or spicy flavors slated to pique consumer interest.

While the trend towards seafood is clearly making waves on commercial menus—Technomic’s MenuMonitor found that 23% of restaurants already serve fish sandwiches or wraps—non-commercial foodservice operators can mimic the restaurant experience on their own menus. For starters, they can easily swap in fish in place of other proteins in casual handhelds such as tacos, wraps, rolls and burgers on menus.

The format is key. Sandwiches remain a popular item across the board, with 61% of consumers eating them at least once a week, either at home or away from home, according to Technomic’s 2018 Sandwich report.  And as 39% of consumers overall and 54% of millennials wish restaurants would offer more sandwiches with new or unique flavors, mahi burgers, lobster rolls, and shrimp po’boys have a chance to push out the old standbys of beef burgers and chicken sandwiches, both at commercial locations as well as noncommercial.

New, craveable options

What’s driving the seafood sandwich trend? In Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report, about a third of consumers said they’d order a fish sandwich just to try something different, while over half would choose seafood over meat because they’re craving a specific seafood item. Many consumers also associate seafood with health as well as sustainability as more vendors market their fish as responsibly sourced.

Restaurants are already taken advantage of the trend, and with 42% of consumers saying they’d be likely to order a fish sandwich for lunch or dinner, according to Technomic’s Seafood & Vegetarian report, noncommercial foodservice operators should take the opportunity to address the changing palettes of almost half of their diners.

Menuing seared Ahi tuna sandwiches, salmon burgers, and fried halibut or blackened cod sandwiches are all great ways to offer seafood sandwiches to diners who want something new and different. Offering global-inspired sauces and condiments, such as gochujang aioli, pesto mayonnaise or mango chutney can boost the flavor and interest. Seafood sandwiches aren’t just for restaurants or the fast-food drive through anymore. Updated, elevated options are the perfect foil to the all-too-familiar chicken sandwiches offered at noncommercial foodservice locations.

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