Simplot Australia has released a new range of John West Tuna Chunks in time for Lent, which remains a key sales period for canned fish that can account for up to 20 per cent of yearly sales.
Canned fish has been a standout performer in Australia in recent years, highlighted by a 7.2 per cent jump in 2009. And, while many grocery staples lost ground in 2010, canned fish sales still increased last year, by 0.8 per cent to $573.4 million, according to the Retail World Annual Report.
Tuna continues to dominate the segment, accounting for 70.3 per cent of sales (worth $403 million), while salmon accounts for 18.3 per cent, sardines 5.7 per cent and shellfish 3.1 per cent.
John West dominates the $104.9 million canned salmon segment, accounting for 43.2 per cent of value in 2010, and narrowly edged out Heinz-owned rival Greenseas to head the tuna sales chart on value (28.7 per cent to 27.9) but not volume (24.2 per cent to 25.8).
The company launched its new Tuna Chunks in oil range on January 17 and will be supporting both the launch and the seasonal sales push with two new TV commercials.
The new range was revealed with a different look and feel to the rest of the familiar-looking John West range to highlight the more premium nature of the product.
Packaged in 95g cans, John West's new Tuna Chunks in oil come in three flavours: sea salt and cracked pepper, garlic and soy, and chilli, lime and ginger.
At the same time, John West also launched a No Drain range of tuna, promising "no mess" as the 130g cans contain only "a little" olive oil, springwater or brine.
In the UK, John West recently launched three new sardine and mackerel products, including two firsts for the canned fish category, in the hope of enticing young and lapsed consumers.
The new British launches include Mackerel Fillets (110g) that are steam-cooked and available only in natural oils or a little olive oil for a fresher flavour, Grilled Sardines (100g) and Peri Peri Sardines (120g), which tap into the spicy sauce trend.
A Simplot Australia spokesperson told Retail World it is becoming more challenging to grab the attention of shoppers.
"There is a lot of activity within the category and to be successful it's important to make sure you're really adding value for the shopper," the spokesperson said. "John West does this through initiatives such as recipe books, leaflets and through innovative new products such as No Drain Tuna, developed to ensure that our products are as convenient as they can possibly be."
Even though traditional religious values appear to be waning in Australia, the rise in seafood sales during Lent - the period leading up to Easter - suggests it is still revered by many consumers.
Simplot, which also owns the Ally salmon and Seakist tuna brands, timed the release of its two new tuna products, along with the TV commercials and a recipe book for shoppers, to capitalise on the spike.
"We do recognise Lent as a good vehicle to draw new customers into the category," the spokesperson told Retail World. "Our support increases over Lent and will generally include above-the-line activity such as TV, magazines and path-to- purchase, as well as below-the-line activity such as off-location displays, in-store demonstrations and point of sale.
"The key is to make sure that all of the activity is integrated and fully aligned and we clearly communicate our offer to the shopper at all points of the shopping journey."
Ardagh Group is the world's largest seafood can manufacturer.