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There is a good chance seafood sales for Lent will be excellent this year. After a drop in 2014, retail seafood promotions during February surged by 42 percent, led by a 45 percent increase in shrimp promotions.
Urner Barry's retail index measures both the number of stores nationally engaged in promotion, and the number of seafood features published in a given week.
For this analysis, which originally appeared on our website, seafoodnews.com, we used the raw store numbers to determine retail interest. The data represent about 40 percent of U.S. metro areas, by population. In the major metro markets surveyed, 195,112 stores ran individual weekly seafood features in February 2015, versus only 137,690 in February 2014. Obviously retailers see seafood lent promotions as a bigger part of their business this year. We recognize that Lent in 2014 started three weeks later than Lent in 2015. However, comparing the first three weeks of Lent in each year shows the same strong improvement, with a 26 percent increase in total year-over-year store promotions. So we are confident that we are looking at a strong start to the main seafood sales season.
The surge in promotions applies to all products, but especially shrimp. The number of stores (again for the 16 surveyed major metro areas) with shrimp promotions increased from 43,577 to 63,291. However, prices were mostly unchanged. For example, a 26-30 raw EZ peel shrimp sold for $9.52 per pound in 2014, and for $9.31 per pound in 2015. This is a drop of only 2.2 percent.
Meanwhile, the last 90 day wholesale average for 26-30 Asian white shrimp has been $5.01, vs. $6.75 for the same period a year ago. So wholesale prices have come down 25.7 percent, and retail prices have come down about 2.2 percent. This suggests that part of the retail interest in shrimp is that margins are considerably higher this year than in 2014.
But the surge in promotion suggests that not only are retailers eager to buy shrimp, but they are selling to more customers. This is a positive development for suppliers, as it means that shrimp is moving through the pipeline. Of course it would move faster with lower retail prices, but that is likely what 's coming next.
The impetus will be retail competition, and once some banners start heavily promoting lower prices, others will follow suit.
This positive news on shrimp was repeated in other major categories as well, though less dramatically. Atlantic salmon promotions were up 12 percent over February 2014, and have continued a positive trend for three years.
Fillets, both fresh and frozen, also saw higher promotion. Fillet promotions were up 33 percent in February, vs. the same month last year. For Alaskan cod, average prices edged up from $5.62 to $6.09. For fresh/frozen Atlantic cod, prices were stable, with an average price of $6.75 in 2015 -- less than a penny difference compared with 2014.
Higher sales with little price reduction is an indication of improving seafood demand. Retail is clearly increasing its sales volume as more promotions translate directly to higher volume. Meanwhile, foodservice demand is climbing also, as restaurant traffic improves and the headwinds of unemployment and low wages abate a little, due partly to lower gas prices.
This will likely create quite a buzz at the upcoming Boston Seafood Show, as it's clear that this year's seafood sales will be firing on all cylinders.