We’ve entered 2021 much as we left 2020: gripped by the coronavirus crisis, but with high hopes for the new vaccines being rolled-out across more and more territories. Nevertheless, expectations are that the post-crisis, consumer landscape – or “new normal” as it’s already widely referred to – will be quite unfamiliar.
No one should be surprised if that’s indeed the case, as we must factor in the significant changes to peoples’ attitudes and values that have taken place since March last year, when the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that Covid-19 was a global pandemic.
For seafood, as for so many food industries in the first half of 2020, the Covid-19 crisis and subsequent measures to curb spiralling infection rates caused disruptions to a great many supply chains. Beyond the initial shockwaves, however, the events of the past year have also brought many people in many regions around the world much closer to fish and shellfish.
As consumers, our food-eating and purchasing behaviours changed dramatically this past year. The shortages – as brief as many were – underlined the importance of all food systems, resulting in a much greater awareness, perception of and engagement with food products and producers alike. Seafood has undoubtedly been one of the great beneficiaries of this.
Added to the mix is the unfortunate, widespread closure of restaurant and catering channels. Both this, and supply shortages experienced by certain branches of the meat sector gave fish and shellfish the opportunity to plug gaps in retail stores’ protein offerings, and in doing so, to get more products in front of more consumers.
Crucially, with so many more people seeing the rich variety on offer and having more time on their hands to explore these products – and the countless ways to prepare them – several markets have experienced a considerable surge in retail demand.
The public’s concern about their immune systems and perception of seafood as a healthy food choice have also underpinned this growth. In this regard, it is worth remembering that well before the pandemic took hold, seafood was already benefiting from the growing consumer shift away from red meat – by providing a well-trodden pathway to achieving this aim.
The demand for frozen fish has particularly grown during the crisis, with many people shopping in-store and online, feeling that it’s the most cost-effective and least wasteful choice. Not only has this been in the form of standard-fare fillets, consumer demand for restaurant-style products has also proved to be significant. More and more, luxury frozen ready meals for easy home preparation are being well received in markets.
Restaurant closures have also led to a huge shift in off-premises dining, with many businesses focusing on take-and-bake items and family meals.
Of course, the obvious questions facing the seafood sector relate to what happens to retail demand once Covid-19 is under control and people return to their busier lives: Will they have time to continue cooking seafood at home? Can ways be found to build on the growth of at-home consumption? And of course, how many of our favourite, fish-serving restaurants will reopen?
But while there continues to be a lot of uncertainty, what’s clear is that amid all the chaos of the past year there’s been a reconnection and a growing appetite for these wonderful foods and seafood production in general, which should in turn create more opportunities to grow consumption and expand our offerings in the new, normal world.