“People are really starting to move away from this preconceived notion that sardines are smelly fish, or they're not mild. It's really exciting for us to see that consumers are just open to trying and giving sardines and anchovies a try, whereas previously, maybe five or so years ago, they wouldn't have been as open. So, it's just a huge opportunity for us.”
The canned seafood craze continues
Spurred by strong demand during the pandemic, the canned seafood market is on the move again. Last year, canned seafood product sales came in at $2.7bn, growing 9.7% year-over-year, according to Euromonitor International data. And part of that growth is coming from younger consumers who are learning about canned seafood from TikTok and finding them increasingly on restaurant menus, Kelly explained.
“Gen Z and Gen Alpha, they're really interested in sustainability and for food that’s easy, convenient, and I think versatile as well. Because with sardines and mackerel and anchovies, there's so much that you can actually do with them, and I think people when they view these videos they're surprised to realize that you could pretty much use sardines in any way that you could use tuna.”
Consumers also are finding canned seafood at restaurants with items like tin fish boards and avocado toast with sardines, which is driving product awareness, Kelly said.
"One of the biggest things we're seeing are tin fish boards, and that's trending a lot obviously on Tik Tok and social media," Kelly said. "In restaurants across the country, they're actually starting to serve these tin fish boards as like an appetizer."
Supporting sustainability with smaller fish, plant-based caviar
At the National Restaurant Association event this week, Season will be showcasing its line of canned seafoods, including its skinless and boneless sardines, bone-in sardines, skinless and boneless mackerel, anchovies, and its plant-based caviar, Kelly said.
Released two years ago, the plant-based caviar is a "one-to-one replacement for traditional caviar" and comes from a sustainable source of seaweed, Kelly said.
“Seaweed is in healthy production, so we don't necessarily have to worry about shortages,” Kelly said. “It's really an accessible product for anyone who's looking to try caviar, maybe they're not familiar, and maybe they're not sure about like the egg aspect and maybe the saltiness. But this is really a great introductory way to get those flavors and give it a try.”
Beyond the seaweed product, Season has been committed to sustainable fishing practices for decades and is certified wild-caught sustainable, Kelly said. Additionally, Season works "directly with the suppliers to ensure that they're always following the proper fishing practices, that there's no bycatch.”
"We focus ... on smaller types of fish that typically they're much more plentiful supply. For example, sardines have a much more plentiful supply versus tuna. Obviously, they're smaller fish, so they eat and digest less contaminants."
Consumers trade down, but sustainability and health remain key
Though consumers are buying more canned seafood products, they’ve also started to trade down from branded items to private labels. While acknowledging the trend, the demand for sustainable products will also help drive the Season brand and the overall category forward, Kelly noted.
"There's definitely been some going to private label, but I think the most important aspect that consumers are looking for is that they're really looking for those certifications to know that the product that they bought are sustainable; they're wild caught; they're potentially non-GMO; they're gluten-free. And so, for us, we just always make sure that we stand by our quality standards, and that's what's kept us in business for over 100 years."