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Sushi poke bowls and other seafood specialties stand to grow in popularity based on recent consumption trends
<p>Sushi, poke bowls and other seafood specialties stand to grow in popularity, based on recent consumption trends.</p>

Seafood demand skips from slump to surge

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At first glance, a 6.2 percent year-over-year increase in U.S. per capita seafood consumption might seem like just another ho-hum government statistic. But operators who menu fish and shellfish have been waiting a long time for seafood demand numbers to improve like this. How long? “It’s the biggest jump of its kind in at least 25 years,” AP reports.

The 2015 per capita seafood consumption number — 15.5 pounds per person, up from 14.6 pounds in 2014 — comes from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 2015 Fisheries of the United States report.  It’s nowhere near the record for consumption (16.6 pounds per person in 2004). But it does suggest that seafood is on the upswing after experiencing three very weak years: 2012 (14.4 pounds per person); 2013 (14.5); and 2014 (14.6). All were off roughly two pounds per person from just a decade ago.

Increased consumption is good news if you’re a restaurant operator eager to leverage the latest trends. In seafood, that includes do-the-right-thing menu items that include underutilized (i.e., “trash”) fish, locally sourced seafood and species that are sustainably harvested. Hot sellers such as sushi, seafood charcuterie and poke bowls should benefit, too.

NOAA isn’t the only federal government agency that tracks U.S. seafood consumption. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does, too, and it wants to see consumers eat a lot more fish and shellfish than they already do.

As the National Fisheries Institute points out, “At a time when Americans are told to limit so many foods, seafood is among the handful of foods Americans are encouraged to eat more often.” It’s a dietitian’s dream: a “nutrient-dense source of protein, low in calories and saturated fat, and rich in key vitamins and nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.” NFI adds.

USDA’s most recent dietary guidelines suggest that annual per person consumption should be much higher than it is. The agency’s specific recommendation is that U.S. adults should eat at least eight ounces of seafood per week. That’s 26 pounds per year — 10-plus pounds more than U.S. consumers currently eat. As far as frequency, estimates are that only one in 10 Americans now eat seafood as often as twice a week.

Which species should restaurant operators menu to tap into this growing demand? No mysteries here. The NFI’s favorite seafood species list makes consumer preferences crystal clear.

Shrimp is the most popular choice (four pounds per capita in 2015), followed by salmon (2.88 pounds per capita) and tuna (2.2 pounds per capita). Down the list from there are tilapia, Alaska pollock, pangasius (one variety a.k.a. basa, another a.k.a. swai), cod, crab, catfish and clams.

These top 10 species account for 14.18 pounds of all U.S. consumption, so you may not wish to stray too far from these consumer favorites. But there are plenty of creative ways to use them. Even a couple of super-easy-to-prepare items — fish tacos and poke bowls — might be a good place to start. They can accommodate multiple types of seafood, are vibrantly flavored and can usually be sold at fast-casual-level price points. That could prove to be a winning combination for many restaurants, even those that don’t necessarily specialize in seafood.

Contact Bob Krummert at [email protected]

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