Price signs in euros and Latvian lats sit on tins of canned fish, including sardines, for sale at the central market in Riga, Latvia. (Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

Millennials Tried To Kill It, But Tinned Fish Is Making a Comeback

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Of all the things millennials have killed over the years, the slow death of seafood in a can may have provoked the least amount of hand-wringing. When a 2016 U.S. Department of Agriculture report noted that tinned-tuna sales had fallen 42 percent over the previous three decades, most people seemed to agree it was for the best.

But while these preserved foods might be having a tough time in the U.S., the category is gaining traction elsewhere. The global market for canned fish is expected to reach $36.7 billion by 2021, up from $29.75 billion in 2016, according to Supermarket News. Versions from Portugal and Spain, France, and other Mediterranean countries are prized as much for their locally caught fish—notably anchovies, sardines, and tuna—as for their colorful, collectible tins. Other European staples include firm chunks of mackerel from Latvia; roasted sprats from Ukraine; and cod liver from Norway, which often comes labeled “by special royal permission of King Oscar.”

Asia’s canned-seafood scene is even bigger. In China you can get fried croaker with fermented bean sauce, though you may find the color unnervingly black when you peel off the lid to reveal the chewy, funky pieces of sardinelike fish. More appealing is Korean tuna doused in a chile-spiked sauce. The Japanese are especially enthusiastic about canned fish, which are high in protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids—conducive to the low-carb diets that have taken hold in the past few years. (They’re also handy to store in case of an emergency.)

There are discrete signs that imported canned seafood might take off in the U.S. Sales of tinned fish in the José Andrés Foods line have increased 18 percent from 2017 to 2018, says Marisol Plata, product brand director at ThinkFoodGroup LLC. At the chef’s upcoming Mercado Little Spain in New York’s Hudson Yards, canned fish will be sold at the retail market and served at the bar. “We’ll have a nice portfolio of tinned seafoods at different price ranges,” Plata says. A new line includes sardines, ranging from $7 to $20 a tin, as well as creations from Spanish chef Albert Adrià.

At Il Buco, also in Manhattan, owner Donna Lennard says customers increasingly appreciate canned seafood as a luxury item. “To many of our guests, tinned fish has become akin to a bottle of Burgundy or caviar,” she says.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Rovzar at crovzar@bloomberg.net, James Gaddy

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