Navigating Economic Trends in the Fishing Industry: Fishing Business Research from Circana

In the rapidly evolving world of fishing business, research can sometimes be hard to find but staying informed about economic trends and consumer behavior is crucial for success. At the recent 2023 ASA Summit, the American Sportfishing Association brought in several experts to give some insight on the current economic trends for the fishing industry. One of those presentations was by Circana (formerly IRI and The NPD Group), a market research firm powered by cross-industry retail point-of-sale and consumer data, advanced analytics, and deep industry expertise. Circana helps retailers, brands, and manufacturers in the U.S. and around the world understand trends and make data-driven business decisions.

If you google Circana you’ll find headlines like “Uptick in Food and Beverage Volume in 2024” or “Latest weight-loss drugs not slimming down shopper grocery basket” because they are a leader in consumer research across more than 25 industries, but they also have a team that analyzes the fishing equipment space – and both also happen to be avid anglers. Don Unser, President of Thought Leadership at Circana, spends as much time as he can fishing in the Florida Keys while Julia Day, Executive Director of Business Development, grew up in a fishing family in the Keys but now lives in Colorado and tries to coax rainbows and browns to sip dry flies on the Miracle Mile of the North Platte River, whenever she’s not chasing tarpon in warmer climes.

I’ve gathered a few of my key takeaways from their fishing business research here.  I hope you find as much value in them as I do.

At a high level, the demographic group that has been least affected by inflation is retirees because they got an 8.7% cost of living adjustment. That’s 70 million people, and as Don Unser said, “That group has money, that group is spending money, that group is largely not affected by the inflation in terms of money coming in. So I encourage you to keep that in mind.”

Toward the other end of the demographics from retirees are student loan holders. Circana believes that as student debt has to begin to be paid back again, about 27 million people will be making payments. There are approximately 45 million borrowers and they estimate 1/3 of them never stopped paying so 2/3 or 27 million will have less money to spend.  They use the average payment of $503 and that factors out to $8 to $10 billion reduction of purchasing power from these consumers. Unser said, “Starting this month, we expect to see $8 to $10 billion in pullback, and we are expecting that to come into US retail. Now your (fishing) categories are mostly discretionary categories. We’re going to feel it in our categories.”

Julia Day shared insights on how sporting goods retail business looks today compared to 2019. “We saw the craze, as I think an earlier speaker called it – this sugar rush from COVID to buy equipment. Anything to get us out of the house and active. We saw this, but really what we saw is this remarkable growth in these industries. So looking at this growth, it really gives us a new benchmark. What’s the size of the industry now? Fishing is relatively flat. Flat is the new up right now!”

Day also noted that fishing equipment sales were flat in the past 12 months, but up 3% in 2023 through July. In their fishing business research, Circana finds marine electronics to be responsible for a big part of that but even excluding marine electronics, the business would be up 1% in Q1/Q2 2023.

And finally, Day talked about online vs brick and mortar sales.  Circana’s data shows that online fishing tackle sales is on the low side in terms of e-commerce penetration.

“When you look at other outdoor sports equipment like hiking, camping, climbing gear, they are 30% online, 70% in store. But fishing is a more like 15% online, 85% in store.  But how much a buyer is spending online is up almost 19%. The question is are they getting a better product at a better price or are they just paying more for the product?”

We might be facing a headwind with the economy in the next year, but there are several marker beacons out there to to focus on. As an industry, we’re very fortunate our American Sportfishing Association invests in resources like Circana to help us chart our course.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this or anything else you have on your mind.
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