Frozen Seafood in Italy: Attracting Sustainability-Minded Italians

Fish and seafood are projected for slow growth as the economy improves in Italy, with the quest for healthier lifestyles being one of the main drivers for the category. As of late, more Italian consumers are looking for taste, value, origin and sustainability details on fish and seafood.

By Patty Johnson, Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel

Italians are moderate fish and seafood consumers, with per capita expenditures of USD52 in 2014, according to Mintel estimates. Compared to seafood-loving Spaniards, at USD106, and French consumers, at USD100, Italians’ seafood expenditures more closely align with Germany and the UK.

The category is expected to grow slowly

The processed fish and seafood market is slowly growing in Italy with the total market value projected to increase at a CAGR of 1.7% over the next five years, to reachEUR€2.5bn by 2019, driven by improvement in the economy and health-seeking behavior. Italy’s economy experienced a slight lift in the first quarter of 2015 and this general economic improvement is good news for the fish and seafood category as it will spur consumer movement into value-added and premium products.

According to Mintel estimates, shelf stable fish and seafood products lead category sales in Italy, accounting for 57% of sales value in 2014, compared to frozen at 28% and chilled at 15%. Breaded and battered fish are the most commonly consumed fish product formats in Italy, eaten by half of Italians, followed by tinned fish/seafood, marinated/glazed/seasoned fish and smoked/cured fish.

While convenience and preparation ease are rising in importance in the category, Italians are generally more focused on health and provenance than other Europeans, creating opportunities to develop and market easy to use fish and seafood products that emphasize healthy attributes as well as origin and sustainability.

Healthier lifestyles drive seafood purchases

Compared to other Europeans, Italians are more likely than consumers from France, Germany or Spain to be willing to change their lifestyles to be healthier, with nearly half to be open to healthy changes. Italians are also more likely to check labels for nutritional information than other Europeans. Further, about a quarter of Italian consumers claim to be eating more fish and seafood for health reasons, rising to 27% of 16-24 year olds and almost a third of over-55s.

Frozen product formats dominate new fish and seafood product innovation in Italy, accounting for 47% of products launched from 2012-14, compared to 37% in shelf stable and 16% in chilled formats. The percentage of products launched in frozen formats has increased significantly of late, rising from 43% of fish and seafood products launched in 2012 to half in 2014.

However, Italians have a fairly low opinion regarding the nutritional value of frozen foods vis-à-vis fresh, with only three in 10 believing that frozen foods are as nutritious as fresh. This suggests that frozen fish manufacturers should emphasize the high nutritional value and processing techniques that preserve the healthy nutrients of their offerings in order to appeal to health-minded Italians.

Italians look for taste, value, origin and sustainability details

For the majority of Italian consumers, taste, value and national origin are the most important factors in the purchase equation, along with nutritional value, when purchasing meat, poultry or seafood products. When it comes to purchasing fish and seafood, nearly two-thirds of Italians believe that it is important to have detailed information about product origin. Moreover, just over a quarter trust their retailer to only offer sustainable fish and seafood products for sale, indicating a high degree of skepticism about whether or not products are being sourced sustainably. This falls to under a quarter of 16-34 year olds and of 35-44 year olds.

According to previous reports from Mintel, in Italy, nearly a quarter (24%) of under-25s eat prepared ready to cook chilled or frozen meat, poultry or seafood 3-4 days a week, compared to the average 18%. Affordability is likely to be a key reason for their choice of frozen produce, as well as less planning being required with frozen food (apart from where it needs to be defrosted before use), providing a convenient option for young adults. Marketing this ‘freezer staple’ positioning to families and young people could prove effective. Thus, manufacturers and retailers in Italy need to increase sourcing and product origin transparency in order to cater to consumers who are demanding that companies ‘Prove It’ when they offer fish and seafood products to an increasingly skeptical public.

Product development

Frozen fish product launch activity has grown significantly in recent years as producers try and inject interest into the category and capitalize on latest trends. Total European launch numbers were up 15% in 2014, on the back of 21% growth in 2013. Italy (18% share of launches), Germany (16%), France (13%), Spain (9%) and the UK (6%) accounted for almost two-thirds of all European frozen fish innovation activity in 2014. Russia’s share was 4%.

Environmentally friendly product claims, principally Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified, are now comfortably the leading claims seen on frozen fish launches, growing from use on just over a quarter of launches in 2012 to almost four in 10 in 2014. Convenience claims have also grown in importance, with ease of use (most often associated with packaging innovation which allows the consumer to reduce preparation time and clean-up), microwaveability and speed of preparation claims all growing.

The attempt to upgrade the quality perception of the category is also evident with no additive/preservative claims and premium product positioning also consistently growing. Most active in launch activity have been branded manufacturers with a 60% share of launch activity in 2014, versus private label’s 40%.