Hooking Health-Conscious Consumers with Seafood

Hooking Health-Conscious Consumers with Seafood

Americans are paying more attention to nutrition these days, and many are finding that seafood offers a great, low-fat, high-protein alternative to meat.

In its 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that individuals consume at least two servings of seafood per week as part of a healthful dining regimen. For an average 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, that amounts to 8 ounces of fish and shellfish per week, or about 20 percent of total consumption from protein foods.

However, some consumers lack the confidence to prepare seafood at home, says Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group. Instead, they rely on restaurants to provide seafood in delicious, innovative ways. As a result, NPD reports an increase in cases of seafood shipped to restaurants, and an increase in orders of shellfish, salmon and other seafood for the year ended March 2017.

“Restaurants provide the expertise in selection and preparation of seafood that consumers are looking for,” says David Portalatin, vice president of industry analysis for NPD Group.

Not surprisingly, more chefs and restaurant operators are seizing the opportunity to attract customers by menuing healthful, flavorful seafood items. Here are some ways operators can drive traffic and boost sales with heart healthy, low-fat fish.

1. Generate excitement with LTOs

Limited-time offers with a nutritious bent are a great way to encourage health-conscious consumers to visit a restaurant. During National Seafood Month in October, Slapfish, a growing fast-casual chain based in Huntington Beach, Calif., showcased responsibly raised, all-natural tilapia in several LTOs. They included a Burrito with crispy tilapia, vegetables, miso sauce and braised pork; Tilapia Power Bowl with avocado, greens, quinoa, vegetables and honey-lime vinaigrette; and Insanely Hot Tilapia Burger with grilled or crispy tilapia, caramelized onions, Angry Chile Sauce, lettuce and tomato.

2. Share information

Consumers want to be reassured that what they are eating is healthful, so they often ask transparency-related questions. “The most common are about calorie, sugar and protein content,” says Lauren Gibson, culinary product development director for the New York-based fast-casual chain Luke’s Lobster. “Health-conscious guests love our seafood rolls, which are low calorie and low sugar, while high in protein. Our lobster rolls contain 300 calories, 3 grams sugar and 26 grams protein.” The eatery also posts the calorie counts on their website.

One of Luke’s more popular menu items is the Wild Blue Salad, which features a split lobster tail atop organic baby arugula, lightly pickled wild Maine blueberries, red cabbage, white beans, sunflower seeds and served with organic honey balsamic vinaigrette. “Our guests seem to really enjoy the Wild Blue Salad,” Gibson says. “While it is not the top-selling item, we would still consider it a sales driver since offering seasonal items creates media buzz and generally brings more guests into our restaurant, regardless of what they ultimately choose to order.”

3. Cater to educated customers

Consumers are more educated than ever concerning the healthfulness of seafood, says Michael Phillips, chief executive and founder of Coconut’s Fish Cafe, with locations in Hawaii and California. “This is something that has trended in California for years and now is taking over the nation,” says Phillips.

Coconut’s Fish Cafe offers menu items such as fish tacos made with mahi mahi or with ono, which is a whitefish. The coleslaw contains coconut milk instead of mayonnaise, and several sauces such as wasabi, Thai chili and Sriracha aioli are available. While the items are popular because they taste good, people are increasingly seeking the nutritious features of seafood — and they’re willing to pay for them, Phillips says. “Young families today are willing to spend two dollars extra for a healthy meal.”

4. Know your clientele

According to a Nielsen survey, millennials (ages 18-35) are most likely willing to pay more for healthful menu items. While 33 percent of that group say health attributes are very important in purchase decisions, 29 percent say they would pay a premium for these attributes. Meanwhile, 32 percent of Generation X (ages 35-55) say the health attributes are important, and only 26 percent are willing to pay more.

Among baby boomers, 32 percent found health attributes important but only 23 percent were willing to pay more. The least concerned with health — and the most unwilling to pay more — are the over-65 Silent Generation. Twenty-four percent say a menu item’s health attributes are important, although only 15 percent are willing to pay more.

5. Offer variety

According to the USDA, five types of seafood — shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and Alaskan pollock — comprised nearly three-quarters of total seafood consumption in 2014. One factor that drives this popularity is that aquaculture provides low-cost, high-quality imports of shrimp, salmon and tilapia.

Another factor is that consumers enjoy having options. Phoenix-based True Food Kitchen offers a variety of healthful seafood selections. One item, The Sustainable Seabass, features a base of ancient grains and a sauce containing nutritional yeast flakes, which add a savory flavor without using nuts. The Grilled Fish Tacos are gluten-free and include avocado, Greek yogurt, cilantro, pickled onion, anasazi bean and cotija cheese.

According to True Food Kitchen, guests are always looking for a variety of protein alternatives and these healthful seafood dishes provide a great additional option.

Consumers want to eat healthfully and they know seafood is a great choice to satisfy their need for low-fat protein. Chefs that prepare seafood in innovative ways can drive more traffic into their establishments, increase revenues and win over consumers seeking a flavorful, nutritious meal.