Q&A: Private Label Grows Share in Some Seafood Sectors

Melissa Rodriguez, principal at Circana, detailed how and where private label is expanding its gains in the seafood category and what retailers can expect from the market going forward.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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fresh fish

In the seafood category, shoppers are faced with many choices to make when purchasing their preferred items. Seafood has seen strong growth since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with many consumers turning to seafood for healthy protein options.

But with food prices remaining high, shoppers are adapting their seafood spend to find the best deals. Melissa Rodriguez, principal at Circana, spoke with Store Brands about the state of seafood and what has changed from consumers in the past year.

STORE BRANDS: What products are consumers gravitating towards and how have prices impacted this in the past year?

Melissa Rodriguez: Within fresh seafood, fresh finfish is showing dollar sales growth in latest 52 weeks (per Circana data). Within shelf-stable, many seafood types are showing dollar growth, including tuna, sardines and clams. When we look closer in, at the last six months, we see a few additional areas showing growth across fresh, frozen and shelf-stable, with key growth areas coming from both frozen and fresh shellfish, and we see this trend continuing in the last 3-4 months as well.

It’s important to note that in many instances, we aren’t seeing volume growth. A few things are driving this: we are lapping some very strong volume gains that occurred 2-3 years ago, driven by a combination of increased SNAP benefits enabling more consumers access to areas such as fresh seafood, and then also from pandemic-era sales growth. 

This then dovetails into how pricing has impacted seafood, whether fresh, frozen, or shelf stable.  Looking longer term to past 12 months, every seafood area (regardless of store location and product-type) witnessed price increases compared to year ago…. many with double-digit increases. 

Within the last six months, some pricing has softened even if seeing some increases sometimes.  That being said, many shelf-stable and frozen items are still incurring those double-digit price increases. Shelf-stable is still seeing some success though, likely driven the fact that price point alone is lower than fresh and frozen in many cases. 

SB: What categories are fastest growing? (Canned, frozen, fresh, etc.)

MR: In terms of dollar sales, see above for what’s been going on in past 12 months. Closer in, dollar growth has rebounded in some areas, with shelf-stable offerings leading the growth. While frozen seafood is still down in both dollars and volume in the last six months, both fresh and shelf-stable are trending in the positive directions compared to longer timeframes, even when it comes to volume sales. 

Costco tuna

SB: Are private label seafood assortments seeing gains in the past 6-12 months?

MR: Yes! Quite a few, although as you can tell from the above stats, not enough to turn around growth for whole segments or categories. From a dollars perspective, private label represents solid share in both frozen and shelf-stable.  Private label shelf-stable (canned) dollar growth is outpacing category growth in dollar sales, latest 52 weeks, and certainly outpacing in volume sales. Total shelf-stable seafood category is actually -2.6% in L52 week volume sales. Private label shelf-stable seafood is +5.0% in volume sales.

Private label frozen seafood offerings are experiencing similar downward trends as total category, which doesn’t surprise me much given private label frozen increased prices similar to the category-at-large. Private label frozen prices increased roughly 30% compared to two years ago, which many branded items did not.

SB: What does this mean for retailers who may be looking to expand seafood offerings?

MR: Shelf-stable continues to outperform the total category, so that’s a bright spot within private label seafood.  I didn’t mention mention fresh above but should point out that private label fresh shellfish is also seeing some volume and dollar growth in the last 3-4 months. 

In order to continue to gain share and sales off of some of this store brand momentum, I think retailers can likely expand on all three of these areas, but it will be important to watch price gaps as well as any promotional opportunities to engage consumers on.  And awareness! We have talked in the industry a lot lately about getting education out there.  Consumers don’t know what they don’t know, so engage with them, in your stores, online, etc., and help them understand offerings, what to prepare and how to do it!