Consumption fell by 1.4% in the 12 months to August 2009 [TNS], the latest available data. Value sales rose 4% to £94.4m during the period, but that was due to higher prices as a result of tighter supplies.
The fish is now being eaten less frequently during the week and more at the weekend, suggesting it is perceived as more of a special purchase than an everyday food. Friday remains the most popular day, claiming 27% of occasions, as consumers opt for fish and chip dinners at the end of the working week.
"The decline of cod sales is due to people being far more aware of declining stocks and the product becoming more scarce, which is in turn making cod more expensive and a treat rather than an everyday meal," said Fishfanatics MD Andrew Franks.
Processors have increasingly been using alternative species such as pollock for ready meals and fish fingers, as well as introducing cheaper species such as basa, added Karen Galloway, market insight manager at Seafish. "The quotas for this year are still not finalised but processors may be reducing their exposure to changes in quotas and prices by broadening the species they use."
Many suppliers have reported better sales of alternative species, which they have promoted for their omega-3 content. Birds Eye, for instance, said its strategy of using different species and moving away from cod and haddock had led to an increase in sales of omega-3 labelled products and a decrease in cod.
If quotas continue to shrink, consumers may have to get used to higher prices, with retailers increasingly stocking line-caught cod from well-managed stocks.
But Seafish has played down fears cod may slowly disappear from British menus. "It will remain a favourite with the British consumer and some will be prepared to pay a premium for responsibly sourced cod," said Galloway.