Fast Casual Sees Growing Demand For Sustainable Seafood

Fast Casual Sees Growing Demand For Sustainable Seafood

Every day, more and more people are going meatless, or at least choosing to limit their intake of meat. It’s a trend that can be traced to consumers’ increasing awareness of what they eat and the impact their food choices have on their health and the environment. Demand for seafood and plant-based cuisine is quickly expanding within foodservice, especially in the fast casual segment.1

Seafood, in particular, has huge growth potential in the fast casual space. With more than half (59%) of consumers choosing to eat meals without meat at least weekly,1 operators have an opportunity to attract customers and drive sales with innovative new seafood offerings. Here are four questions operators should consider to boost seafood sales.

4 Factors to Consider to Help Drive Seafood Sales

Slapfish Crab BLT

Is It Sustainable?

Sustainable seafood is predicted to be among the top five menu trends to impact sales in the year ahead. Therefore, it’s no surprise that 41% of consumers say it’s important or extremely important for seafood they eat at foodservice locations to be sustainable, and 41% also say it’s important that the environment not be negatively impacted by the seafood they eat.1

Both chefs and consumers are paying closer attention to the story behind their seafood—where it’s from, how it’s sourced and how it affects the ecosystem. Slapfish, a quickly expanding modern seafood shack on the West Coast, offers a menu focused entirely on creative sustainable seafood dishes. Chef Andrew Gruel sources only well-managed seafood for his restaurants, which offers shrimp, lobster, cod, tilapia, mahi and other fresh, seasonal species.

Poke bowl

Is it On-Trend?

Poke bowls are all the rage right now, showing up on more and more menus. Dozens of restaurants focused entirely on poke are popping up around major cities to keep up with this booming trend. It’s a fresh and hot new way to capitalize on the trend for more seafood. According to chef Dakota Weiss of Sweetfin Poke in L.A., poke is “… the next generation of sushi, but easier to eat.”2

Like Hawaiian poke, seafood has ties to many different cultures and cuisines. From spicy fish curry to Spanish paella, seafood is a great way to leverage the demand for ethnic cuisine. In fact, roughly a third of consumers would order fish (36%) or shellfish (32%) dishes with ethnic flavors.1 Letena in Washington, D.C., serves healthy, authentic Ethiopian dishes like Asa Tibs—tilapia tossed with jalapeño, red onion and rosemary while Miami’s My Ceviche is serving up a variety of fresh fish, shrimp and octopus “cooked” in citrus juices and tossed with onions, cilantro, tomatoes and jalapeños.

Seafood menu

Is There Variety?

Half of the consumers who eat seafood at least monthly (51%) would like more restaurants to offer a wider variety of seafood dishes.3 In order to drive sales, operators will need to set themselves apart by featuring a variety of seafood preparations. For example, a rotating list of seafood specials will appeal to customers looking for variety.

While frying is a common preparation, the demand for healthy items has led to an increase in grilled preparations. Fish tacos, wraps, salads and bowls are appearing more frequently at a variety of concepts. Even burgers are getting a healthy makeover with many new fast casual concepts offering seafood in addition to traditional beef and turkey. Burger 21, a Florida-based burger concept, menus an Ahi Tuna Burger and a Thai Shrimp Burger.

Is It Cost-Effective?

In the past, high-quality, sustainable seafood may have been considered too expensive for QSR and fast casual menus, but many operators today are discovering new ways to keep costs down while highlighting premium seafood items. Identifying how the product is being used will impact what makes the most financial sense. For example, if only using fillets, it may make more sense to purchase a pre-portioned product to prevent waste. However, purchasing the entire fish can be more cost-effective if operators are using it for multiple preparations such as soups and chowders, dips and burgers.

When it comes to cost, sourcing and price fluctuation, Chef Guy Lott, VP of U.S. sales at Regal Springs, recommends “choosing a supply based on quality, not price. You get what you pay for; so don’t be fooled by low-price seafood that may be filled with additives and preservatives. People want good food today, and I have found that if you source the best possible products and charge a reasonable price, you will be successful.”

1 Technomic, Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, 2017
2 Pfeffer, Stephanie Emma, “What Is a Poke Bowl Anyway? A Chef Breaks Down the Food Trend,” People, 6/5/17