Sharp differences are emerging about the future direction of in-pack convenience packaged fresh fish products.
The market share of pre-packed fish sales are growing as fewer people are happy with handling fresh fish, but industry views about what sort of convenience products consumers want vary.
Simon Smith, brand leader at The Saucy Fish Co, part of the Icelandic group, said: “The fresh fish counter is very much an indulgence, suiting shoppers who have a lot of time and are relatively confident with fish.”
He added: “Pre-packed fish sales are already around four times fish counter sales, and their share is growing. Fish counters are in long-term decline.”
Fish and sauce combinations
The brand has focused on fish and sauce combinations for conventional baking. “Our market research tells us that consumers just don’t want to microwave fresh fish, contrary to popular belief,” said Smith. Reasons include reluctance to spoil the end result, given the relative costliness of the product, and less predictable drivers, such as the belief that fish will make the microwave smell, he added.
A few months ago, Marks & Spencer (M&S) launched a range of three fish-and-sauce combinations: cod in parsley sauce, salmon in watercress sauce and haddock in cheese sauce. The emphasis was on speed and convenience, since the pack could be microwaved.
Sirane supplied the twin-pocket cook-in bags used by M&S. These include vents and a seal between the sauce and fish which ruptures at a given temperature, allowing the products to mix. The company calls its Smart Release bag “a truly great and cost-effective concept”.
M&S products withdrawn
Coldwater Seafood, also part of the Icelandic group, supplied the fish. But the three products have been withdrawn from M&S shelves over recent weeks.
Responding to suggestions that sales of the microwaveable range had not been as strong as expected, an M&S spokeswoman said: “This is a range of seasonal products, so they’re currently not on sale.” She added: “We will be reintroducing them later in the year or next year.”
One argument is that, unlike the Saucy Fish combinations, the price point of these M&S options was pitched relatively high, given the amount of fish.
Sirane director Simon Balderson said: “My experience is that consumers love to microwave fish. Unlike products which benefit from being browned, it microwaves really well. I don’t think it’s going to be difficult to persuade consumers to microwave more – I think they’re pushing at an open door.”
Many of the current pre-packed options, including the M&S and Saucy Fish products, aim to bring new consumers into the fish category, and reassure those who are not confident about cooking or handling fresh fish.
According to Sirane, the venting seals on the Smart Release bag can be tailored to suit different products, from seafood to poultry or even desserts. “This is the product that’s excited our customers more than anything else,” said Balderson.