How social media and Gen Z spawned the resurgence of tinned fish

Startups like Fishwife are netting young consumers on TikTok and Instagram.
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· 4 min read

Sometimes you need a hook not just to catch fish but to sell them, too. And for tinned fish brands, last July, a major hook was cast—fittingly enough—by a TikToker named Ali Hooke (@alihooke).

While tinned fish has traditionally been revered in southern Europe, particularly Spain and Portugal, where it’s known as conservas, the idea of getting a romantic evening started with a can of sardines in Cleveland is a more novel notion.

  • Sales of canned seafood in the US rose 9.7% to $2.7 billion in 2022, according to Euromonitor International data cited by the Wall Street Journal.
  • Scout Canning, a Vancouver-based brand of tinned fish, told WSJ that its revenues jumped 82% in 2022.

How did tinned fish go from being something tucked between the canned beets and melba toast in your grandparents’ pantry to a foodie trend driven by Gen Z?

It’s not your typical fish story.

Reeling them in: Fishwife was founded in 2020 by Becca Millstein and Caroline Goldfarb. The brand sells responsibly sourced fish packed in canneries in Spain, Washington state, and British Columbia.

The DTC brand makes no claims about competing on price with Starkist, with a three-pack of Fishwife’s wild-caught smoked albacore tuna selling for $27. Most of its offerings are bound to be more of a discovery than tuna for initiates, like three-packs of smoked rainbow trout ($30) or—in a collaboration with Fly By Jing— Smoked Salmon with Sichuan Chili Crisp ($39).

Millstein, who serves as CEO, said social media was integral to establishing the brand.

“We built the business on Instagram,” Millstein told Retail Brew. “The majority of our customers find out about Fishwife through social media.”

And find out they have:

  • Revenue doubled in both 2021 and 2022, Millstein said.
  • The brand launched in Whole Foods in select regions in January, with plans to roll out in all Whole Foods globally in April 2024, Millstein added.
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Befitting a brand that foresaw taking hold on social media, its packaging is bright and playful and features illustrations and lettering from illustrator Danny Miller.

Restaurants increasingly feature tinned fish on menus, sometimes referring to plates for sharing as “seacuterie.” Millstein said Fishwife products are on menus in around 50 restaurants around the country, and that the brand is working on “food service formats” that would be more suitable and affordable for that higher volume.

Fishing for compliments: Meagan Loyst, founder and CEO of Gen Z VCs, didn’t need Fishwife to introduce her to the appeal of cured fish.

Her father is an avid fisherman who cures and smokes some of what he reels in, so she developed a taste for it and a love of fishing as a tot.

“I had a pink Barbie fishing pole,” Loyst told us. “That was my first one that I would use in my fishing competitions.”

But Loyst had never found the canned fish she’d see in supermarkets appealing.

“You see the entire tinned-fish area where they’re selling anchovies, tinned sardines, and tuna [and] it doesn’t look like the packaging or anything has changed since the 1800s,” she said. “It doesn’t appeal to the next-gen consumer.”

But the packaging and overall approach for Fishwife “checks every box for me,” Loyst said. “It’s just really fun.”

Gen Z and millennials’ newfound love for tinned fish may have something to do with what the Wall Street Journal called the “snack-ification” of Americans’ diets, with younger consumers often preferring to nibble on this and that at dinnertime rather than tuck into a traditional meal.

“I’m a big fan of snacky dinners,” Loyst said. “Smoked trout, cream cheese, crackers, capers, and red onion: It’s like the perfect little snacky-snack.”

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