Seafood sees Big Opportunity with Fast Casual

Fast casual has crossed many boundaries in the past few years–from burritos to pizza–and seafood might be next.  Chicago-based research firm Technomic has released a report noting that seafood consumption is on the rise; nearly three-fourths of consumers who ordered more seafood entrees over the past two years said they did so to eat more healthfully, the report says.

Consumers see seafood as healthier than beef, pork, and poultry, and as in line with vegetarian and vegan meals.  Half of respondents indicated that these meals–pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan–are as satisfying as meals with meat.  Sixty-two percent of consumers surveyed have a beef, pork, or poultry-free meal at least once a week, and 69% have a seafood entree at lease once every 90 days.  Furthermore, about half of the respondents said they would like restaurants to offer a wider variety of seafood, vegetarian, or vegan entrees.

“Health will continue to drive the seafood and vegetarian menu mix, and it can be leveraged both to spur interest in these options and to benefit the concept as a whole, by broadening appeal, reducing the ‘veto vote’ and creating a health halo,” said Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Technomic. “These options also provide a point of differentiation that younger consumers look for as inventive, yet satisfying vegetarian and seafood items featuring on-trend ingredients to create a contemporary, unique and better-for-you positioning,” she added.

While chains such as Pret A Manger, Au Bon Pain, and Panera Bread have introduced items with shrimp or lobster in the past year, only 6% of seafood entrees on US menus are found in fast-casual restaurants.

“Currently, seafood is mostly the province of casual-dining chains, and with few limited-service brands able to approach the size of Long John Silver’s and Captain D’s, the white space in between those segments leaves plenty of room for young fast-casual restaurants to develop quickly in urban, affluent areas,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president for Technomic. “Securing a supply of fresh fish and managing price points are certainly challenges for limited-service seafood brands, but this type of cuisine lets new chains leverage many attributes people love about fast casual, including perceptions of greater ingredient quality, bold flavors and customization.”

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