The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant changes to restaurant menus — some favoring seafood and some not, according to Datassential director Kelley Fechner.
Datassential, based in Chicago, Illinois, USA, provides annual updates on restaurant industry menu trends at the National Fisheries Institute’s Global Seafood Market Conference (GSMC). At this year’s event in Orlando, Florida, US, Fechner said 60% of restaurants have reduced their menus since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in the US, from 10.2 % on average.
“We’ve never seen that, although we’ve seen the financial crisis,” Fechner said. “It was not to the degree that we see with a pandemic.”
As restaurants launch limited-time menu offers, operators are unlikely to return to the same menu size as before COVID-19, according to Fechner.
“It’s a continuing trend,” she said.
An additional concern for the seafood industry is that independent restaurants have closed at the highest rate of any restaurant type since the pandemic began, Fechner said.
“The most concerning thing from a seafood standpoint [is that] 98% of all fine-dining restaurants offer some form of seafood. You’ve also seen the highest number of fine-dining independent restaurant closures … closing permanently rather than temporarily closing,” Fechner said.
The higher prices also scare off restaurateurs, according to Fechner. More than half of American restaurants have raised the price of their menus. Reasons for price increases include supply shortages, food inflation, and higher labor costs.
“Americans will reduce restaurant visits as prices remain high. Forty-two percent of consumers say, “I’m going to take away those restaurant visits,” Fechner said.
In favor of the seafood industry, beef prices have risen the most of any commodity, making seafood prices more favorable by comparison, Fechner said. After beef, restaurateurs say their other biggest price increases include take-out packages, chicken breasts/thighs, dairy and fresh fruit.
Seafood ranks tenth on the list of restaurant items with the most price increases, with 57% of restaurateurs saying their seafood costs are increasing, 18% saying they’re staying the same and 23% saying they don’t buy seafood or that seafood is expensive. are irrelevant to them.
Fine-dining restaurants — which primarily offer seafood — are shrinking their menus more than any other type of restaurant, Fechner said. However, seafood appearances on gourmet menus have only decreased by 0.9% over the past year. Comparatively, chicken dropped 2.6% and beef 1%, while pork appeared on 1.9% more menus.
“These fine dining restaurants said, ‘I want to keep those things that show I’m eating well and so seafood definitely played a role there,'” Fechner said.
Of all the seafood dishes, sautéed shrimp dishes saw the biggest increase in the percentage of menus they appeared on last year – almost 24% – because it “works really, really well from the point of view of view of travel,” Fechner said.
Tuna nigiri dishes also rose 13.6% on restaurant menus.
“Sushi is another element [that travels well]”, Fechner said.
Other seafood dishes that increased in appearances on American menus included Alaskan cod, imitation crab (surimi), cream of lobster, blackened salmon, and lobster salad (as on lobster rolls).
As a bright spot for the seafood industry, around a third (34%) of consumers surveyed by Datassential said they want to increase the amount of seafood they eat, although 60% do not plan to change their intake. . More than a third of consumers say they want to increase their intake of plant-based meat and seafood analogues, Datassential found.
Photo courtesy of Datassential