A little something different

Andy Gray, Trade Marketing Manager at Seafish, looks at expanding our tastes when it comes to our seafood choices

As consumers in the UK, we have a tendency to focus our seafood consumption on five main species – salmon, tuna, cod, haddock and prawns – and yet on any one day it is estimated that there is in excess of 100 different species of fish and shellfish available to purchase in the UK; a veritable bounty from the seas.

Penetration of seafood in the UK is relatively high, with approximately 90% of consumers eating fish in a given year. Frequency of consumption, on the other hand, is low with only approximately a third of consumers eating fish at least twice a week.

The ‘two a week’ message, encouraging customers to include two or more portions of fish/shellfish a week (one of which should be oil-rich fish) as part of a healthy diet/lifestyle, is still a fantastic platform on which to promote fish and shellfish to your customers.

While many consumers are often reticent about buying seafood for preparing and cooking at home, it is however often a main menu choice for many people when they decide to eat out of home – putting trust in a chef that he or she will expertly prepare and serve an excellent seafood dining experience. This point can therefore be acted upon by caterers by ensuring that there is a good variety of seafood choice on their menus.

In 2013, UK consumers spent an estimated £350bn on eating out of home, with meals that included seafood worth £3bn. Fried fish dominates the foodservice sector, with just over a third of the sector share, followed by seafood sandwiches, such as prawn and tuna. Whitefish, such as cod, haddock and pollack, is the most popular choice in foodservice, making up more than 80% of the total spend.

However, with so many other varieties of fish and shellfish to try, what can caterers do to encourage consumers to try something different? Many consumers have never tried anything other than the previously mentioned top five species and are often simply unaware of what other great-tasting species are available. Trying something different can help to reduce the pressure on more traditional species and also helps to vary the diet – there is a huge variety of different vitamins and minerals found in different species of seafood.

Inevitably, the aforementioned species will continue to remain popular with many consumers but caterers can also endeavour to be enthusiastic about alternative species and consider featuring one or two additional species on their menu; perhaps on a rolling weekly basis to keep the menu fresh. Offering free bite-size samples of different species on certain days to encourage customers to try something new, or maybe a lesser-known ‘species of the week’, offered at a reduced promotional price, are initiatives that can also work well.

While cod and haddock are often regarded as the nation’s favourite whitefish species, hake is a fish that many consumers realise they really like when having the opportunity to taste it. Blind taste sampling tests amongst consumers with cod, haddock, hake, coley, etc, often highlight hake as being the tastiest of the lot in consumers’ views.  

With many consumers being unsure about fish and shellfish, equipping serving staff with some outline product knowledge of various seafood species can greatly help in educating customers and often in persuading them to choose one of the seafood options on a menu. A great chef, or kitchen crew, is the key to any successful catering operation, however some simple marketing skills are also essential to help maximise such talent and creativity coming out of a restaurant kitchen. Some simple written explanations on a menu or point of sale materials, explaining the provenance of listed seafood items, or comparing and contrasting tastes and textures of different seafood, can again contribute to persuading customers to choose one of the offered seafood options.

A value-for-money species, often overlooked by consumers when shopping for home consumption, but which can be an excellent species for the catering sector, is the humble mackerel. Often regarded by seafood aficionados as one of the tastiest fish, the mackerel lends itself to simple preparation, perhaps pan fried or grilled and enjoyed along with some lightly boiled new potatoes and an accompanying leafy salad – perfect summer dining and a great addition to any menu.

For more seafood information, hints and tips visit www.seafish.org  

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