Rather than competing for consumer attention, branded and own-label products can work side by side to deliver category growth.

The chilled seafood market provides ample evidence for the advantages of a symbiotic relationship that can grow sales and bring a younger audience to the chiller. The UK industry has performed well over the past decade, but a lack of innovation and intimidated young consumers are threatening the category. Our approach needs to change, fast.

The majority of seafood consumers are over 45. Among 22 to 45-year-olds, there is a definite desire to eat seafood. Sales of takeaways and ready meals testify to this. But, despite understanding the clear health benefits of seafood, this younger audience has shied away from freshly-prepared meals.

We know consumers, particularly younger ones, respond well to brands they help provide trust and confidence in purchasing. Yet within the fresh meat and fish category brands traditionally account for a very small proportion of sales. There hasn’t been enough of a difference between branded and own-label products to justify the investment in marketing a brand. Also, consumer trust in a brand is, in part, due to a product’s consistency but this is hard to guarantee when the end result relies on how it is cooked.

As in the meat industry, the focus in seafood has been on volume and category standards rather than adding value and addressing the gaps in purchasing behaviour. The fact is, there are not enough young people buying seafood. To secure the future of the industry in the UK, it is time to take a stand on ­innovation.

As the largest prawn producer and own-label prawn supplier to leading UK retailers, we are in an ideal position to do this. Our close working relationship with retailers, coupled with consumer insight, has allowed us to create a range of branded seafood meal solutions that sit perfectly next to own-label products: chilled, high quality, ready-to-cook meals that can be made in less than seven minutes.

Each meal kit contains three separate compartments seafood, freshly-cut vegetables and sauce taking the guesswork out of which accompaniments to add to create a complete meal. The cooking instructions are straight-talking, giving consumers the information they need to stir-fry the seafood perfectly. The meals are designed to build confidence in fish preparation and inspire consumers to graduate into buying own-label chilled fish once they have sufficient skills and self-belief, creating the perfect relationship between branded and own-label products.

Once consumers have dismissed the idea of buying seafood, they have no reason to visit the fish aisle and this has been a major challenge. Presenting complete meals means they can be sited elsewhere, with ready meals or in the vegetable aisle alongside stir-fry packs. This will be vitally important in drawing consumers back to the fish aisle.

To truly drive the category forward and bring younger consumers in, retailers will have a major role to play. We’ve had a high level of co-operation in creating and introducing the new range. I believe it’s a much-needed step towards boosting own-label sales, and one other declining categories can adopt.

Paul Vita is marketing director of Lyons Seafoods