The competition to capture the biggest share of the key canned fish market is fierce, with the two major brands jockeying for top position

The battle for supremacy in the biggest sector of the canned goods category, canned fish, is hotting up. Princes has taken over the number one spot from John West, while IRI figures place John West as brand leader, with a 28.4% value share of the market [TNS, 52 w/e July 10, 2005].
Whichever figures you go by, it is evident that the canned fish category is dominated by two major brands. The sector is also under the microscope because of Heinz’s recent decision to review its $1bn European frozen and seafood business, of which John West is part, to focus on its core categories. The review is likely to be announced in a couple of months’ time. Any sale would have a significant impact on the category.
The canned fish sector is now worth almost £359m and TNS says that £11m has been added to the sector in the past year. It attributes most of the overall sales growth to average price rises, although more promotional activity has helped.
Princes marketing director Neil Brownbill
says that his company has benefited from more effective promotional activity over the past year by introducing more bogof and multi-save deals and by using trial prices to encourage consumers to buy new products. He says Princes has driven up sales by introducing more choice with innovative new products as well as premium ranges.
The premium Yellowfin tuna, which has a lighter texture, taste and colour, was introduced to the Princes range three years ago and is now experiencing strong double-digit growth, says Brownbill. “The new species give consumers the opportunity to trade up. On the back of the success of Yellowfin, we introduced Albacore tuna a
couple of months ago. This is a popular premium range in the US and we feel there is an opportunity here in the UK.”
Princes also entered the ready-to-eat lunchtime market with a range of tuna salads in five varieties in June. The launch followed the introduction of the Slimming World range in tins and pouches 18 months ago. This has a more premium price than the basic product and has helped increase the company’s year-on-year tuna sales by 18%.
Brownbill says more products will be added to the Slimming World range and it will become available in more stores.
The pouch format is now increasingly seen alongside cans in the tuna fixture, but Brownhill does not see the pouch as cannibalising sales from the regular canned offerings. “Pouches add a contemporary feel to a traditional fixture and offer increased variety. They have a place alongside cans for recipe-based or value-added products rather than offering a straight packaging alternative for other canned goods."
One product that has seen a big upsurge for Princes this year has been mackerel, which Brownbill puts down to consumer awareness of the health benefits of oily fish.
John West is also further positioning itself as a healthy-eating brand and recently launched reduced salt tuna in brine. One can contains 0.5g of salt per 100g compared with 1g in the original version, which will still continue to be sold.
John West achieved the lower salt content by speeding up the freezing process which means there is less time for salt absorption. It also selected bigger fish so there is a smaller surface-to-volume ratio. No salt is added during packaging either.
Added-value products are also driving growth in a category worth £21m, [IRI]. Scofish recently launched a luxury range of fish highlighting the Omega-3 benefits of the products and using premium cardboard cartons to give the products better shelf stand-out.