Seafood sales are outpacing other items, but the growth still isn't enough to make up for the seafood industry's pandemic losses.

By Mike Pomranz
January 25, 2021
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We all have those meals we're hesitant to make at home. Maybe you're afraid of overcooking your steak? Or sabotaging your soufflé? Cooking a live lobster is even a sitcom cliché! Speaking of which, just as the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed many Americans' inner baker, plenty of people appear to be tackling any fears of making seafood. Okay, maybe not live lobsters specifically, but according to Bloomberg, retail seafood sales in the United States have been soaring over the past year.

Retail columnist Sarah Halzack cites a few major statistics to certify the seafood uptick: Frozen seafood sales at grocers were up 26 percent for most of December compared to the previous year, according to market research firm IRI, and fresh seafood sales were almost as strong—up 25 percent. This growth significantly exceeds the increase in supermarket sales for packaged goods overall, which was just 6 percent, and seafood has apparently been beating this baseline for most of the year. Halzack points to retailers including Walmart, Lidl, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, and Whole Foods all remarking on strong sales and expanded selections.

Closeup of many fresh selection salmon cut steaks fish in seafood market shop display tray orange large farm raised fat marbled
Credit: krblokhin/Getty Images

The numbers also imply that this shift likely came due to restaurant closures. In 2017, Americans spent more than twice as much on seafood at restaurants compared to at retail—$69.6 billion versus $32.5 billion—according to data attributed to a U.S. government report. That's a much bigger gap than restaurant versus grocery spending overall which (before the pandemic, of course) tended to run more neck and neck, with restaurants holding a slight edge. Seafood was lopsided towards being an "eating out" food.

Still, the picture these statistics paint are more about a potential change in our cooking habits than a short-term lifeline for the seafood industry. An NOAA Fisheries report apparently found that revenue at commercial fisheries was down 29 percent against the five-year average in the first half of 2020. So though fishermen would almost certainly like to see more Americans cooking seafood at home, they'd probably prefer that to be a long-term silver-lining after the restaurant industry recovers.