Seafood consumption is on the rise, according to Technomic consumer data, aligning with increased consumer focus on health. As more people look to order seafood at restaurants, operators need to find ways to innovate with the product to stay competitive. However, innovation doesn’t necessarily require reinventing the wheel. Operators should approach seafood in the same manner they’ve tackled other trendy proteins of the past, like pork and chicken. Trends that have worked for those proteins (e.g., ethnic preparations, highlighting nontraditional parts of the animal, etc.) also can be applied to seafood. With this in mind, let’s look at some emerging fish and seafood trends to watch.
1. Chimichurri shrimp
Argentinian chimichurri sauce is moving from its traditional application on grilled meats to shrimp. This transition is related to an uptick in consumer interest in ethnic fare; in fact, almost two in five people say they would like restaurants to offer more ethnic seafood dishes, swaying heavily toward Gen Zers. Opportunities for chimichurri shrimp include applications on tacos or in bowls.
2. New pokes
Hawaiian tuna poke has been all the craze lately, with new poke-dedicated concepts popping up in urban markets, as well as a number of new menu rollouts at top chains like Yard House and Ruby’s Diner. For operators, poke’s appeal is the minimal kitchen costs, as the raw fish requires little beyond a refrigerator and clean prep area. The draw for consumers is poke’s uniqueness. Though the raw fish dish is not yet losing its steam, operators must look to the next poke option beyond tuna to keep customers engaged and excited. Almost half of customers (47%) say that restaurants featuring new or unique ingredients would encourage them to both visit and pay more than they typically would, so new pokes could be just the ticket. Who will be the first to jump ship to salmon or octopus poke?
3. Fish belly
Experiencing huge momentum over the last decade, pork belly could pave the way for similarly inexpensive fish belly. With opportunities ranging from trout to swordfish to salmon, fish belly rollouts are becoming competitive, with menu mentions increasing 8.1% over the past three years, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data. Promoting the ingredient’s sustainability on the menu will increase not only the chance that customers will pay for the dish, but that they will pay more.
4. Lemon balm
Lemon is ubiquitous with fish. To surprise diners, try lemon balm as a smart swap. The herb’s slightly tart flavor gives fish dishes a similar citrus taste to lemon, but with an added premium factor that consumers want. As a bonus, significant health benefits are associated with balm. Since the top reason that consumers choose to eat more meals with seafood is that they consider these options to be healthier, emphasizing other healthful ingredients like balm associated with the dish will further influence customers to not only purchase these items but also pay more.
5. A la nage
Thinking about all the ways that flavor can be added to seafood at a restaurant (e.g., seasonings or spices; sauces, spreads or condiments; marinades; and glazes), consumers noted the preparation style as the most appealing (79%). So finding new and enticing cooking styles for seafood is a must for operators to stay relevant with consumers. Trending up is seafood a la nage, a poaching method featuring fish cooked in a light white wine broth with vegetables, herbs and other aromatics, then served with those ingredients. The French term has both that unique factor consumers want as well as a premium undertone. Further, as one of the lightest preparation methods for seafood, fish a la nage would be best paired with language like “lighter fare” on menus, because about a quarter (23%) of consumers are not only more likely to purchase seafood attributed as such, but also are willing to pay more for it.