Go West – Fish Farmer Magazine
Few were surprised when the new boy of land-based fish farming, Salmon Evolution, announced last month that it was looking to North America for long-term growth prospects.
The company, which is due to start production at its first Norwegian plant later this year, clearly sees it as the region with the most promising potential. The Norwegian Seafood Council also has its sights set on the other side of the Atlantic, which is why the United States will benefit from a significant increase in the organization’s marketing budget this year.
France, another key market, is also the subject of particular attention from the Seafood Council. Americans, it seems, don’t have enough salmon, but in France seafood consumption has fallen since the end of the lockdown and the Council wants to reverse this trend.
Three or four years ago, China and Japan topped the list of northern hemisphere salmon exporters. The Far East remains important with the Seafood Council hosting a webinar on China last month which showed that fish continues to be a favorite among Chinese who regard it as their most important food import. Ongoing issues with Covid and higher air travel costs following the war in Ukraine took away some of the shine, however. Webinar viewers were told that while China has stabilized the coronavirus situation, the country’s “zero cases” policy is having a negative impact on people’s willingness to spend. This has led to a 10% reduction in grocery store sales of all types, although online shopping is picking up.
Europe and the United States are easier and cheaper to get to and have more affluent consumers. The Seafood Council says the United States was the biggest growth market for Norwegian seafood in the first quarter of this year, with salmon leading the pack. Until May this year, seafood exports to the United States increased by NOK 1 billion (£83 million) compared to the same period last year, reaching a total of 4 NOK.2 billion (£348 million). Measured in volume, seafood exports increased over the period by 1% to 46,000 tonnes. Prices for salmon, cod and haddock are currently at historic highs, while trout and king crab are also doing particularly well.
Anne-Kristine Øen, the Council’s US envoy, said in April that the US economy is strong, despite supply chain challenges and inflation which is now at its highest level in 40 years. More than 90% of the jobs lost at the start of the coronavirus pandemic have returned and the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6%. Giving an update for June, she said the main concerns now are high food and energy prices, but so far they have not hurt the economy as a whole.
Despite inflation and other economic challenges, the Seafood Council wants to maintain the momentum that started earlier this year, which is why it is ready to spend more. Øen says: “The salmon budget has doubled from NOK 10m to 20m (£833,000 to £1.66m), while the whitefish budget has increased from NOK 4m to 7m ( £330,000-580,000).
In addition, the Seafood Council is investing 1 million crowns (£83,000) in the promotion of shellfish this year. She adds: “The United States is a fast-growing market. In 2021, Norway exported 55,000 tonnes (+19%) of salmon to the US worth NOK 5.7 billion (+12%).
“There has also been good growth in exports of cod and haddock, as well as trout, king crab and snow crab.
“In total we exported 100,000 tonnes of seafood to the country (up 18%) worth NOK 8 billion or £664,000 (up 17%).
“Based on this development, the Norwegian Seafood Council market groups have made it clear that the United States is one of the markets that should be prioritized with strengthened budgets.
“It is of course very gratifying and welcome. The strengthened budget means that we in the United States can now work more directly with consumers.
“In recent years, the strategy has been to work towards the value chain. We are now well advanced in the work of changing strategy, tactics and marketing plans, and we will come back with more information on this after the summer holidays.
“Through the investment in shellfish, we will give king crab and snow crab a real boost. This will be a purely “business to business” investment.
So what about France, the country with the most Michelin three-star restaurants? It’s a mixed picture when it comes to fish.
Overall salmon consumption in May this year fell 29% to 1,999 tonnes, compared to May 2021, although sales of smoked salmon appear to be holding up. On the positive side, salmon consumption is 2% higher than in the pre-pandemic month of May 2019, suggesting that during the most difficult periods of confinement, people were buying salmon in large quantities and bringing it back to the house to cook. Cod consumption followed a broadly similar trend.
Given the many complexities and distortions as a result of Covid, it might be premature to read too much into the current numbers. Dining out stopped altogether for a time before stuttering back to life, while shopping habits changed dramatically. People were forced to eat at home, so fish, and salmon in particular, became a popular choice in households.
In France, old habits die hard. While salmon remains hugely popular, the figures suggest French consumers, after being almost locked down for two years, are making a strong comeback to traditional menu items now that restaurants have fully reopened. Provided there isn’t another pandemic lurking somewhere, it may take a few years before the industry can get a true picture of how things are going.
Meanwhile, Trine Horne, the Seafood Council’s Paris envoy has no doubts about her mission. She says: “This year’s campaign aims to encourage the French to continue to consume salmon and at the same time to increase their preference for the Norwegian origin.
“The campaign is divided into two parts. The second will take place at the end of the year to take advantage of the popularity of salmon around Christmas and New Years.”
The spring campaign which has just ended consisted of a before and after TV sponsorship of various cooking shows on the France 3 TV channel, an online video campaign and a social media campaign.
“Print advertisements have also been used in some of France’s largest specialist magazines: LSA, Linear, Points of sale and Rungis News.”
She adds: “Alongside the media campaign, various public relations actions have also been carried out to promote Norwegian salmon in France.”
Around Easter, the Seafood Council took part in one of the major French street food markets in Paris, “le Food Market” where “salmon rolls” were served to gourmet Parisians. The Seafood Council has also collaborated with Groupe Demotivateur, one of France’s leading digital entertainment media for millennials.
“With them, we made a ‘tips and tricks’ video to show French people different ways of cooking salmon,” she adds.
“And finally, we worked with French influencers who cooked salmon at home and shared photos and videos on social media, as well as published an article in collaboration with the French industry magazine LSA to address professionals. »