“The #1 area of concern of trepidation when it relates to seafood is ‘How do I prepare it?’ and it has been the #1 concern for the past 30 years,” Aqua Star president & CEO, Dirk Leuenberger, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I always tell people if you can fry an egg, you can cook seafood.”
Seafood consumption has been on a slow and steady incline in the US with Americans eating a reported 16 lbs of seafood per capita in 2017 (up from 14.9 lbs consumed in 2016), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
However, US consumers still eat the bulk of their seafood at restaurants where they can be reassured it will be prepared properly. NOAA research shows that out of the total amount Americans spent on seafood, two-thirds of purchases were made at restaurants.
“People have grown up in North America going out for seafood in restaurants. Seafood has been relegated to a special occasion,” said Leuenberger.
Convenience from start to finish
According to Leuenberger, this consumer behavior cuts across generations.
“There’s also a growing number of people who want to have their hand in their meal prep, but not fully,” said Leuenberger.
“What does that mean? It means, ‘I want to cook my own food, but I don’t want to shop for all the ingredients. I would prefer it be a little more turn-key than that.
“These are people that might eat a frozen entrée, might use Uber Eats, but at the same time might prepare their own food, they just don’t want to start with a treasure hunt in the store and rather, go straight to preparation.”
Aqua Star meal kits allow consumers to cook seafood dishes including Cuban-style wild rockfish, Moroccan-style wild salmon, and crispy fish street tacos, in 30 minutes or less (including cleanup) for a suggested retail price of $12.99 for two servings.
All ingredients come pre-portioned and prepped, meaning consumers need to follow a few instructions to create their seafood meal.
“The Cutting Board meal kits will help reinforce confidence in the consumer that, 'yes, you can do it,” added Leuenberger.
Reduced environmental impact
As non-subscription-based meal kit, Aqua Star products are a fraction of the carbon footprint compared to meal kit delivery models, which are “excessively packaged” and change through many hands before arriving to the end consumer, explained Leuenberger.
“These subscription-based meals, nearly all of the seafood used is previously frozen. It’s then thawed and shipped by air in a chilled package that’s very perishable and has to be used in a few days time,” Leuenberger said.
“So why not offer that same format in a ready to go local retail store that you can maintain in a freezer at home until you’re ready to use it for a fraction of the delivery cost and carbon footprint?”
Capturing foot traffic
Research by NPD Group shows that consumers are turning to frozen meals more often: in 2018, frozen foods were included in 9.8 billion eating occasions at home, up 2% from a decade ago.
Aqua Star Cutting Board Meal Kits are merchandized in separate freezer cases within the ‘fresh’ departments along the perimeter of the grocery store, rather than in frozen aisle alongside other frozen foods, according to Leuenberger.
“The rise in the frozen food aisle is nominal and the rise in the foot traffic around the perimeter of the store is exceptional and that is where these cutting boards are being merchandized -- in a freezer case, where people are expecting easy, quick semi-prepared quality products and value, and it’s working,” he said.
In a little over a month, Aqua Star Cutting Board Meal Kits have entered major retailers coast to coast including Kroger and Safeway banners.
The meal kits are available in ten chef-inspired varieties including chicken and pork options, and the company will be introducing new line extensions to offer consumers more meal options and variations, Leuenberger said.