Health halo, evolving tastes spur demand for seafood
Government dietary recommendations, well-documented health benefits and healthier preparation methods are creating a stronger appetite for fish and shellfish in restaurants. Health-conscious diners are turning to seafood as a better-for-you alternative to beef, pork and chicken.
Data confirms that a desire to eat healthier is having the biggest influence on rising consumption of seafood. In Technomic’s 2015 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, 72% of consumers who said they were eating fish more frequently agreed with the statement, “I am trying to eat healthier and seafood is healthier.” Half of that same group said they were replacing meat with seafood. Better availability of seafood options also factored in for about a third of the surveyed group.
Millennials, Gen Xers and women are most likely to believe that seafood is healthier than other animal protein alternatives. Overall, 58% consider it healthier than beef or pork, while 46% deem it a better choice than chicken or turkey, according to Technomic.
Health concerns aren’t the only factor driving seafood orders, however. More than two-thirds of consumers in Technomic’s study said they opt for fish “just because I like seafood,” and half said craving for a specific seafood item prompted the order. Healthy eating habits ran a close third at just less than half. The desire to “try something different” is behind many seafood orders as well.
The spread of poke restaurant concepts across the United States in the past several years is very likely attracting the attention of diners looking to try something different. Poke—a Hawaiian specialty typically incorporating diced fresh raw tuna, salmon or other fish, served in a bowl over grains and mixed with edamame, avocado, seaweed and other garnishes and a dressing—taps into a handful of consumer preferences, including clean eating, fresh ingredients, customization, gluten-free, low-carb, protein-rich, unique flavors and more. It’s an affordable and highly portable meal.
More traditional seafood preparations star on menus across the board. At Seasons 52, Darden’s calorie-conscious concept, entrees on the “Sea” section outnumber the “Pasture” section of the menu. Selections include wood-grilled tuna, sauteed shrimp with grits, cedar-plank-roasted salmon, Asian-glazed Chilean sea bass, caramelized grilled sea scallops, wood-grilled boneless rainbow trout and wild Alaska Copper River salmon. Seasons 52 also serves a lobster and fresh mozzarella flatbread, lump crab cake, roasted shrimp and spinach stuffed mushrooms, shrimp scampi skillet, ahi tuna tartare, a sesame grilled salmon salad and a mahi tuna crunch salad.
You know seafood demand has hit the mainstream when a chain such as Red Robin—which built its reputation on burgers—offers more than a token seafood selection. Options in the concept’s “Sea-Worthy Favorites” section include a Citrus Harissa Salmon sandwich, made with a pan-seared and slightly blackened salmon filet; Sear-ious Salmon, pan-seared and served with bottomless broccoli and cole slaw; Arctic Cod Fish & Chips; a Crispy Arctic Cod Burger; and Clamdigger’s Clam Chowder.
Similarly, James Beard award-winning Chef Chris Shepherd announced a major overhaul of the menu at his acclaimed restaurant Underbelly, which has built its reputation around whole-animal butchery. Relying so heavily on beef cramped the kitchen’s creativity, Shepherd said; going forward, he is focusing on Southern-style seafood and vegetables. The new menu includes items marinated, grilled, seared, fried and in other preparation styles, and a wide variety of species.