The Rising Popularity of Gourmet Canned Seafood in the U.S.

by Joshua Brown
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Gourmet Canned Seafood

The American appetite for canned seafood has evolved significantly, moving away from the traditional tuna sandwich. This shift, which gained momentum during the pandemic, has introduced a variety of gourmet options to the U.S. market. European favorites like sardines in preserved lemons, mackerel in curry sauce, and chargrilled squid in ink have found a place in American cuisine.

As the demand for pantry staples surged during lockdown, the U.S. canned seafood market broadened its scope. Social media influencers have played a pivotal role in popularizing these protein-rich, colorful tinned delights. For instance, the TikTok channel ‘Tinned — Fishionado’ by Kris Wilson showcases easy recipes utilizing products like smoked mussels by Fangst.

In Europe, where canned fish has been a staple for years, the U.S. is now witnessing a similar trend. Wine bars across cities from San Francisco to Houston and New York are incorporating tinned fish into their menus. Additionally, the concept of tinned fish clubs, akin to wine clubs, is emerging, offering monthly deliveries of assorted seafood. This trend has garnered over 30 million TikTok views through various content related to tinned fish.

The industry’s growth is evident, with sales increasing from $2.3 billion in 2018 to over $2.7 billion in 2023, as reported by Circana. Becca Millstein, who launched Fishwife Tinned Seafood Co. in Los Angeles in 2020, was inspired by her increased consumption of canned fish during lockdowns. Her experiences in Spain and Portugal, where tinned fish is a dietary norm, motivated her to introduce better options in the U.S. Her company focuses on high-quality, sustainably sourced seafood, working with canneries in Spain, Portugal, Oregon, and Washington.

Fishwife offers a range of products, from smoked salmon with Sichuan chile crisps to anchovies in premium Spanish olive oil. The company’s smoked albacore tuna, sourced from the Pacific Northwest, is caught using sustainable methods to minimize bycatch. The products, priced between $7.99 and $10.99 per tin, are suitable for various culinary uses.

San Francisco’s DECANTsf, a wine shop and bar, has embraced tinned fish for its versatility in pairing with wine. Their selection ranges from $8 Ati Manel garfish to $36 Conservas de Cambados ‘Sea Urchin Caviar.’

Tinned fish’s popularity extends beyond culinary enthusiasts to those preparing for emergencies, as noted by chef and author Maria Finn. Its shelf stability and environmental friendliness make it an appealing alternative to meat.

However, the industry faces challenges like mercury content in certain fish types and concerns about sustainable fishing practices. Despite these issues, experts like John Field from the National Marine Fisheries Service see potential in supporting small local canneries and sustainable fishing, although he personally prefers fresh fish when dining out.

This trend reflects a significant change in American culinary preferences, blending convenience with gourmet appeal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Gourmet Canned Seafood

What has caused the shift in the U.S. canned seafood market?

The shift in the U.S. canned seafood market was primarily driven by the increased demand for pantry staples during the COVID-19 lockdowns. This period saw a rise in the popularity of gourmet canned seafood options, influenced by European culinary traditions and amplified by social media influencers.

How has social media influenced the popularity of gourmet canned seafood in the U.S.?

Social media platforms, particularly TikTok, have played a significant role in popularizing gourmet canned seafood in the U.S. Influencers like Kris Wilson on TikTok’s ‘Tinned — Fishionado’ channel have been showcasing easy-to-make recipes using various tinned fish products, helping to boost their appeal.

What types of gourmet canned seafood are becoming popular in the U.S.?

Gourmet canned seafood varieties gaining popularity in the U.S. include European favorites like sardines in preserved lemons, mackerel in curry sauce, and chargrilled squid in ink. These are being increasingly featured in wine bars and speciality stores across the country.

How has the U.S. canned seafood industry grown in recent years?

The U.S. canned seafood industry has seen significant growth, with sales increasing from $2.3 billion in 2018 to over $2.7 billion in 2023. This growth is attributed to the expanding variety of gourmet options and the increased consumer interest in convenient, high-protein foods.

What are the environmental benefits of choosing canned seafood?

Canned seafood offers an environmentally friendly alternative to meat, as it has a lower carbon footprint and requires no refrigeration. It is also seen as a sustainable option due to the long shelf life of tinned fish and the focus on sustainable fishing practices by some brands.

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