Canned tuna is a rock star

September 16, 2010

Americans are of two minds when it comes to seafood consumption.

Americans are of two minds when it comes to seafood consumption.

On one hand, they love fresh fish, but feel it is a pricey protein choice compared with budget cuts of meat in this recession. They also want to support the sustainability of threatened species and look for supermarkets to follow what Giant Eagle and select other chains have done - develop a sourcing strategy in concert with the World Wildlife Fund.

On the other hand, consumers buy plenty of canned tuna despite so much talk of possible mercury contamination. Conflicting statements made by researchers confuse them. According to a HealthDay account this winter, a study published in Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry said of 300 samples of canned tuna:

  • More than 50% had mercury levels higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard (0.5 parts per million)
  • Just five percent were higher than Food & Drug Administration standards (1.0 ppm)
  • Albacore had consistently higher concentrations than light tuna

    Despite all the chatter, canned tuna is the number two fish consumed in America. The U.S. per capita consumption in 2009 was 2.5 pounds, second only to shrimp at 4.1 pounds, according to a newly released National Fisheries Institute report. In all, the top ten fish varieties comprised more than 88% of the 15.8 per capita pounds of seafood eaten.

    Canned tuna was the only canned variety on the top seller list. Nonetheless, total canned seafood sales have been on the rise for three straight years. Dollar sales of prepackaged, UPC-coded products have grown by 0.5%, 4.7% and 2.4% annually in U.S. food stores only (excluding supercenters) to wind up the 52 weeks ended August 7, 2010 at $1.43 billion, Nielsen data showed.

    Omega claims on canned seafood packages are the growth engine. For the first time ever, dollar sales of omega claim packages surpassed dollar sales of those without such claims. Omega claim canned seafood soared 82.1% a year ago and 21.4% in the latest 52 weeks to reach $729.1 million in this channel, according to Nielsen. The equivalized unit volume (EUV) of omega claim canned seafood has been on a high double-digit tear each of the past five years.

    Tuna accounts for $1.03 billion of the total $1.43 billion in canned seafood sales. This omega claim trend is most evident within the tuna and salmon varieties. For instance, dollar sales of omega claim shelf-stable canned tuna jumped 94.1% a year ago and 22.2% to $683.2 million in the latest 52 weeks on similarly high EUV boosts. By contrast, tuna without such claims fell by 32.5% a year ago and 21.1% to $349.9 million in the most recent 52 weeks, noted the Nielsen data.

    Salmon accounts for $129.4 million in annual dollar sales, up a bare 0.6% in the latest 52-week period. Within this flavor variety, dollar sales of omega claim packages were up 8.8% to $43.8 million in the 52 weeks ended August 7, 2010, while packages without claims dropped 3.1% to $85.7 million, the data showed.