Diners are craving sustainable protein, and operators are looking to fish.
With more diners craving lean, low-calorie proteins and red meat alternatives, chefs are finding ways to make creative seafood offerings that appeal to nearly everyone. Datassential reports that sustainable fish is especially on the rise, having grown by over 2,000 percent on menus in the past decade.
When you consider Gen Z and millennial affinity for red meat alternatives, it’s no surprise that they lead the way in seafood consumption, with Gen Z saying they eat seafood at a casual dining restaurant 2.3 times per month. Millennials are not far behind, with 1.8 seafood meals in casual dining venues per month. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to demographics increasingly interested in seafood, experts say.
“Seafood holds a strong repute with younger consumers, but it doesn’t stop there,” says Keith Kandt, director of marketing for Regal Springs Tilapia. “Diners of all ages, and in different socioeconomic groups, are dedicating themselves to sustainability issues. And it’s not just that they’re interested due to concerns for the planet, but they are also often finding that the seafood products are healthier for them.”
Tilapia is a fish whose consumption has exploded over the past two decades. In 2011, the New York Times reported that tilapia production was up 400 percent in the past decade. That has only proliferated as more diners have migrated toward the fish.
“Tilapia is a mild-flavored fish,” Kandt says. “So you can be very creative with culinary applications because it carries flavors so well. It’s also great for those consumers or diners who may not be big fans of ‘fish flavors.’ It’s a great entry-level fish, or the fish for people who think they ‘don’t like fish.’”
Two menu items that have begun to rely on tilapia’s versatility are fish tacos and ceviche, but there’s no limit to what operators are trying out and diners are eating. Regal Springs has an exhaustive list of recipes on its website, including Tropical Jerk Tilapia Salad, Tilapia Sliders with Lobster Sauce, Tilapia Eggs Benedict, or Thai Curry-Roasted Tilapia Loins.
“Tilapia makes first-class standard plates like fish and chips,” says Peter Gibbons, group new product development manager at Regal Springs Tilapia. “It also makes a fantastic encrusted product. It does very, very well in sautés. It also shines in scampi-like applications. Anything that is in need of a nice, crisp, clean flavor will benefit from the inclusion of tilapia.”
In 2018, when Gibbons joined Regal Springs Tilapia, he saw tilapia’s massive growth on menus but knew there was still room left to re-educate the public about tilapia.
Gibbons and Kandt believe Regal Springs WE CARE program’s commitment to sustainability has helped raise the profile of their fish, differentiating Regal Springs Tilapia from other tilapia that was associated with muddy environments. They describe Regal Springs’ harvesting process as holistic, including not just how the fish is raised, but the commitment the brand shows to its employees and the communities that they operate in. To wit, the company invests in the education of their employees’ families at the local level, including paying teacher salaries, and for things like textbooks in the developing countries where the fish are raised. The process is designed to ensure the best standards so that operators feel good about their food partner, and diners enjoy a great product that has been raised in a nurturing environment.
The commitment to sustainability and growing tilapia in a controlled, clean water environment have uprooted many notions operators and diners held about the fish. That’s good news, says Kandt, because it’s a product operators love to work with.
“Simply put, the more love and care that is put into the raising of a protein, the better it is going to taste,” says Kandt. “It is our company’s mission to reinforce Regal Springs Premium Tilapia as a nutritious and tasty source of sustainable protein.”
Supply & Demand
Another challenge seafood has presented in the past lies in its unreliable nature. Prices fluctuate, and a steady supply can be hard to come by. That means that, historically speaking, operators have been hesitant to build business models that rely on seafood.
“An aquaculture environment provides us at Regal Springs the ability to control different variables of how the fish is raised and what it eats, and we can ensure that no chemicals find their way into the fish,” Gibbons says. “That means a consistent, high quality product for operators every time.”
A tilapia supply isn’t an issue for Regal Springs, says Kandt, pointing to the four different aquaculture operations in fresh water lakes.
“We are the largest, vertically integrated tilapia supplier in North America,” Kandt says. “What that means is the operator has the benefit of knowing that they can get our product anywhere in North America. It’s not going to be hard to find, it’s going to be consistently up to spec, and it’s going to have a steady, reliable price, which in the seafood world is sometimes hard to find.”
One of the other challenges operators across the industry had faced was how to call out sustainable practices to a diner.
“There is only so much space on a menu, so it can be hard to communicate to the consumer a product’s sustainability,” Kandt says. “The goal for us is to get Regal Springs in print on the menu, so that hopefully the consumer does a little bit of research and can understand where our company stands when it comes to sustainability.”
Namechecking a brand known for its sustainable practices is one approach, but there’s no guarantee all diners will be familiar with the brand in question. Simply being transparent on the menu is never a bad idea, with entrées like “fish tacos made with 100 percent sustainable tilapia.” Still, it is more complex than that, says Kandt, and sometimes you have to let the product speak for itself.
“Ultimately, what an operator wants and a diner wants is a product that’s going to taste really good,” Kandt says. “That means it’s got to be a high quality option. With Regal Springs Tilapia, we bring that to the table, as well as the sustainable part, and the fact that we are investing in our people and the communities that they live in. All of that makes a complete package worth investing in.”