Festive seafood sales soar - but inflation not volume spawns it

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 2 Mar 2018

FESTIVE sales of seafood were up for a third successive year, but the value was inflation-driven, not volume, data released today has shown.

Total sales were up 4.4 per cent for the two weeks to December 30 year-on-year, albeit for 2.8 per cent less of Grimsby's biggest export.

Across the UK, where the town serves up 70 per cent of what is consumed, shoppers spent more than £171 million on more than 14,800 tonnes of seafood, against £164 million in 2016 and £149 million in 2015.

Volumes of fresh and ambient seafood were both down year-on-year, with frozen the only growth category. Seafish, the industry authority, said the figures still showed that consumers were prioritising treating themselves to something special over Christmas, despite having less to spend due to a year of rising prices and sluggish wage growth.

Julia Brooks, pictured, market insight analyst at Seafish, said: “These statistics are really encouraging for the seafood sector. Despite consumers facing rising prices and falling wages, they are still choosing to keep seafood on their festive menu and finding money to do so.

“Whilst it’s good to see consumers happy to spend more on seafood, what remains important is that we also see the volume of seafood sales increase, meaning more people are getting their recommended two portions of seafood a week.”

Salmon and both warm and cold-water prawns were among the nation’s biggest favourites over Christmas, and accounted for almost half (47 per cent) of all seafood sales value during the final two weeks of the year.

Meanwhile, basa, squid and cod saw the biggest increase in sales value out of the top 25 species, year-on-year, at 29.8 per cent, 17.5 per cent and 12.6 per cent respectively.

Cod enjoyed a great 2017 as the North Sea caught chip shop staple was certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Much of the work to achieve this has been led in Grimsby, with Seafish working in partnership with Seachill and Young’s Seafood, as well as fishermen’s organisations in Britain.

Frozen seafood was the only sector to see an increase across all three metrics, sales volume (1 per cent), sales value (4.6 per cent) and unit sales (3.7 per cent) compared to the 2016 festive period. In that category frozen shrimps and frozen sardines experienced a significant increase of 2249.2 per cent and 2835.4 per cent respectively on 2016 sales volume. Cod came out on top for total sales, with 1,383 tonnes sold over the fortnight, an increase of 7.8 per cent compared to 2016. 

“It’s unsurprising that frozen has continued to see growth again this year,” Mrs Brooks said. “The sector has seen lower inflation than fresh and ambient and ranges are becoming more diverse. In December, retailers upped their standard frozen offering with convenient party ranges for special occasions, such as prawn rings, lobster thermidor and crab gratin.  

“With the prospect of further inflation, people are shopping around to ensure they get value for money, meaning the growth of the discounters is set to continue. They are extending their reach geographically and developing their ranges to cover value and premium tiers.”

MORE: Young's Seafood reports near double-digit turnover growth in first quarter financial update

Sales of fresh seafood were up 4.2 per cent year on year at £114.9 million, compared with £110.2 million in 2016, as consumers tucked into traditional seasonal favourites such as salmon and prawns. Fresh seafood was the big winner in terms of sales volume in 2017 (7,339 tonnes), and enjoyed the largest jump in sales volume (12.6 per cent) compared to the previous two weeks.  Fresh breaded and fresh battered seafood were the only segments to see a lift in both sales volume and value when compared to both the fortnight preceding Christmas and previous year. 

A mixed success story in 2017, ambient seafood saw a 5 per cent increase on its Christmas 2016 sales value, but a 7.9 per cent decrease in overall sales volume. However, a number of ambient seafood species did enjoy both sales volume and value growth in comparison to the previous year, and to the fortnight before Christmas. These included anchovy, caviar, salmon roe, cod, and pollock. 

Solidifying their status as the nation’s favourites, core species took the lion’s share of festive sales in 2017. Salmon, cod, tuna, cold and warm water prawns made up 62.2 per cent of total volume sales.

One concern for the town’s cluster will be the performance of Morrisons, with the West Yorkshire giant having its vertically integrated production based at two Europarc sites. It fared the worst in the retailer battle, with volume share down 5.9 per cent, closely followed by Asda (5.3 per cent) and Marks and Spencer (5.2 per cent). The latter had moved its work from Seachill to Five Star Fish. Tesco saw a 0.9 per cent increase to a 23 per cent market leading share of fish volumes, with Aldi up 13.8 per cent to 12.4 per cent, cementing its disruption of the big four. Lidl saw a 6.3 per cent gain to 8.5 per cent.

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