Shrimp and prawns are extremely popular in the United Kingdom, with a retail worth of £528.5 million that accounts for 14% of total seafood sales – 37% of which within the frozen food sector. So says Seafish’s Market insight factsheet, Prawn and Shrimp 2019. This demand is also reflected in the foodservice sector, where the popular shellfish products account for 9% of seafood consumption.
“The vast majority of prawns and shrimps available in the UK for domestic use are imported from other countries,” pointed out Suzi Pegg-Darlison, market insight analyst at Seafish. “Of the total seafood volume imported to the Britain, 12% are prawns and shrimps, with over half from Asia – mostly Vietnam and India. The majority of coldwater prawns sold in the UK come from the wild capture fisheries in the North Atlantic around Greenland and East Canada.”
In the retail sector warmwater prawns are the most popular product category, with 61% of the prawn and shrimp volume share – 34% of which is sold within the frozen sector. Coldwater prawns follow behind with 37% of the prawn and shrimp volume share – 39% of this within the frozen sector.
Prawns and shrimps are mainly sold through the quick service restaurant channel, accounting for 45% of sales, followed by 26% in full service restaurants, 13% in pubs, 11 % in travel and leisure and 5% in workplace/college/universities.
“Overall 2019 was a strong year for prawns, with a 9% increase in servings year-on-year seen across the channels, with the exception of pubs and travel and leisure,” said Pegg-Darlison.
Following Brexit, fluctuations of the pound to the dollar has meant the cost of imports has increased in order to mitigate the impact of the shocks. As a result, the market has become more margin conscious and consumers more price conscious.
“The lack of UK coldstore space has also impacted on the supply chain, as companies are stockpiling their goods,” said Aanisah Idriss, marketing and social media director at The Happy Prawn Company. “We are yet to see if new import/export legislation will be enacted by January 2021.”
Fallout from the deadly Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has impacted on the frozen prawn market in terms of demand, as China is the biggest importer in the world and with people still self isolating there are less people eating away from home, so there is less demand.
For companies importing frozen prawns, ensuring that food handling is BRC compliant is vital. Many companies are now taking extensive measures to ensure that workers do not come into contact with food if they show signs of any illness – not just the coronavirus.
“We carry our regular health checks and we also batch test our products to ensure there are no food-related illnesses,” assured Idriss. “In the UK, the shipping ports are undertaking further checks on all cargo (not exclusive to seafood). As a result, it is taking longer to clear containers. This incurs additional demurrage and storage costs, which we cannot pass onto our customers.”
Prawns continue to have the highest menu penetration across all seafood dishes and are further gaining menu share. In the UK there has been a marked increase in marinated offerings in particular.
“Most retailers with our products have a marinated cooked product in chilled as well as an increasing number of marinated raw products in frozen,” said Allen Townsend, The Big Prawn Company’s commercial managing director. “This empowers the consumer to enjoy tasty products without any fuss.”
Menu items that are trending include the likes of Cajun Popcorn Shrimp served at Revolution Bars. Seafood appetizers with ethnic and Asian flavors such as sushi are rapidly growing in popularity with British consumers. Sainsbury’s, for example, sells frozen Garlic and Herb, and Chilli and Coriander raw marinated warmwater King Prawns (£3.25).
Despite the demand for marinated products, plain variants remain popular with consumers in the retail sector, as many of them are looking to create their own flavor at home.
“Our product range of prawns that we sell online are the most popular within the market,” said Idriss. “Plain variants are best as consumers prefer to play with the product and incorporate them in any cuisine, which is something we encourage. We also have a value-added peeled and cooked product, which is also very popular with consumers who have busy lives.”
All the major supermarket chains in the United Kingdom stock a range of plain, warm and coldwater, shell-on and shell-off prawns, at varying price points. Although not all sell marinated products, they do offer a range of value-added products, with nearly all stocking coated and pastry covered variants. Morrison’s, for example, features Argentinian Red Cold Water Prawns as part of The Best range (£5).
Ethical and environmental issues are now impacting on sales of prawns, particularly as they have been under scrutiny as they were thought to be unsustainable and therefore damaging to the environment.
“The UK foodservice and retail industries have certainly taken a more ethical and environmental-conscious turn,” said Idriss. “Prawns are slandered for being unethical and devastating to the environment, but this is a stereotype we are combating. We proudly, with the help of the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), documented our farming practices. By being open and having a transparent production process, we tried to allow the consumer to, not only trust that we mean what we say, but also be aware of how their foods are being produced and the ways in which we work with the environment. We feel this has also allowed our prawns to be ‘Best Choice’ according to the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish guide.”
Due to consumer demand, increasing numbers of retailers are now interested in products that fall in line with detailed environmental and ethical sourcing policies.
“This is important for Big Prawn Company as we help communities around the globe and only source sustainable products,” said Townsend. “We have recently seen a growing interest in ethically aware products, such as our Big & Happy Borneo Tiger Prawns. These products make a charitable donation with every purchase to the BOSF (Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation).”
The frozen prawn and shrimp sector’s continued growth year-on-year can be attributed to the industry meeting consumer demand for diversification in terms of flavors and variants, value-added and sustainable products. Seemingly unaffected by Brexit and the coronavirus, this market looks set to continue on its upward trajectory. – Reported by Sarah Welsh