Americans eating more smoked seafood products

SeafoodAmericans eating more smoked seafood products. (Reuters)

There's no smoke and mirrors about it - Americans are eating a lot more smoked seafood than they used to.

And that demand - part of a larger trend of infusing everything from salts and cocktails to fruit and teas with a kiss of smoky flavor - has smoked seafood producers like Maine's Ducktrap River moving fast to expand production.

''Our sales have increased to the point where we can't keep up,'' says Don Cynewski, the company's general manager. ''We feel strongly that this is still a relatively new product in the United States and that it has good growth potential.''

By late summer Ducktrap River hopes to finish a $4.5 million expansion that should double its annual production capacity to 5.5 million pounds (2.49 million kilograms) of smoked salmon - the top-selling variety of smoked seafood in the U.S. - as well as trout, mussels, scallops, shrimp and other products.

The federal government doesn't track smoked seafood consumption, but sales at 18,000 supermarkets, mass merchandisers and club chains jumped 17 percent last year, 12 percent in 2011 and 4 percent in 2010, according to market research firm Nielsen Perishables Group.

And smoked seafood imports to the U.S. have been climbing, from $75 million in 2006 to $135 million in 2011, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It makes sense that smoked seafood sales are growing. American diners have become more sophisticated about their seafood, and smoked seafood tends to be a higher-end product, says Gunnar Knapp, an economics professor at the University of Alaska-Anchorage who has studied seafood trends for more than 20 years.

''The opportunity is bright for products that are high-quality, taste good and are healthy,'' he said. ''I think smoked seafood fits in all that.''

Smoked seafood also has become increasingly popular at upscale restaurants, where chefs apply the smoke themselves, says Howie Velie, a chef and associate dean at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York.

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