Restaurants are pulling seafood from the menu Blog image by Get Maine Lobster

Restaurants are pulling seafood from the menu

As the owner of a lobster and seafood company, people send me seafood-related news articles often. Recently, someone sent me one titled, “No crabs, no scallops: Seafood is vanishing from U.S. restaurants”. This one captured my attention. It’s true the rising seafood costs (especially lobster) are deterring restaurants from keeping it on the menu. Meanwhile, the demand for seafood is stronger than ever. What gives?

What is causing the price increase?

For lack of a better pun, there is a ripple effect that has forced your lobster roll from $20 last year to $36 this year. The average lobster roll has about 4oz of lobster meat inside. Tucked delicately inside a bun (and the ingredients of that bun have gone up). And, finally, the labor cost for the person preparing that lobster roll has risen due to lack of labor and increased incentives to ensure there is enough workforce to keep up with the demand for out-of-home dining.

The supply chain is kinked and battered.

In the seafood industry, we rely on fishermen and women, bait, fuel, trucking, and general labor...all of which are in high demand, but low supply. Purveyors like myself are placing orders two weeks earlier than normal because of the bottleneck with the trucking industry. There simply are not enough drivers to move goods from place to place. If you were to drive through fishing towns in New England right now, you would be surprised at how many lobster traps you see on land...typically those traps are in the ocean. Simply put, we have less fishing occurring. For those that are fishing, bait, fuel, and labor are essential for operations. All are on the rise. When it cost more to catch, it cost more on the plate.

Why are there less fishermen and women?

The pandemic created a huge and fast shift in how people acquire seafood. The shutdown forced this shift overnight. Fishermen and women who sold to wholesalers, who sold to restaurants, casinos, and cruise ships, suddenly the destination for their prized catch was gone. Meanwhile, they have families, financial responsibilities. Case in point, our source for fresh catch fin fish and mollusks was shut down for months. They had to find other means of income, and with the uncertainty of sources for their catch, there is no hurry to race back into braving the salty surf day in and day out....risking their lives without the confidence their bounty will be acquired.

How will people get their seafood? The rise of the Dock to Doorstep service

Dock to Doorstep amplified overnight during the pandemic. People hankering for lobster and seafood had limited to no options. They still craved their favorite seafood. They were forced to rely on online seafood markets to satisfy our needs. Many of these markets experienced astounding growth (including us), and new ventures popped up left and right. Suddenly, a once quiet channel of distribution was the main pipeline between consumers and food purveyors.

Ecommerce grew 44.5% in 2020, triple the growth from the year previous. Growth is not slowing down. Food and grocery delivery is now a mainstay.

So...Now what?

With every major shift in mass behavior there is pain. The 2020/21 pandemic forced a lot of change. Many new habits were formed at scale without enough infrastructure in place. Like every time before, industry will adjust to consumer behavior and efficiencies will follow, hence market prices will settle and normalize. Today, there is far too much unknown in the seafood industry. Will there be another shutdown or more restrictions? Will a new generation of fishermen and women emerge? How close are we to autonomous freighting? Will any new fishing innovations arise?

In reality, people find ways to acquire what they desire. And, businesses hustle to keep up with demand. While many may not be able to enjoy their favorite seafood dish at a restaurant, just as many are testing their culinary prowess at home. Restaurant dining was already at a decline prior to the pandemic. With more entertainment at home and more food delivery services than ever before, Americans are staying in more. The research firm, Hunter shared that 71% of American’s said they will continue to eat more at home post pandemic.

The people have spoken. It’s now up to industry to follow the demand and build the infrastructure for the future.