From family-owned businesses with tremendous reach to well-oiled multinationals, Norwegian seafood suppliers harness generations of experience to offer consistently high-quality products all year-round. Profitability based on good products and reliable delivery has enabled Norwegian exporters to invest in the techniques and technology that now safeguard a reputation for freshness and added value. Fulfilling the requirements of new markets and a desire to understand them has helped Norwegian seafood attain exports of USD 3.4 billion in 2001.
The Norwegian fisherman knows that the handling of fish affects both taste and appearance, a gratifying trait for seafood consumers. The whole customer hierarchy - from the haute cuisine chefs of New York or Tokyo to hawk-eyed supermarket consumers - can discern quality in handling, preservation and processing. It might explain why higher prices for Norwegian exports in the European Union have not slowed the demand for quality seafood from Norway. Nor has Asia's relative remoteness from Norway prevented the oriental palate from discovering and dining chez the Norwegians. Japan, for example, demands Norwegian frozen mackerel, frozen trout and frozen salmon.
Fish is vital to the Norwegian economy and indeed is often the heart of many a coastal community. Seafood is Norway's third largest export industry - good enough, at over 2 million tonnes, for being the first among worldwide seafood exporters. It is of paramount importance to nurture this trade. Apart from annual macro-economic conferences held by Norway and the EU in order to manage fish stocks, the micro handling of fish is best aided by advanced technology. Catch sensors and catch-handling software from Norway help trawling skippers to harvest with precision. Within processing, state-of-the-art production facilities now govern quality.
The Norwegian company Aqua Supply AS, like numerous others in Norway, is an integral part of the fishing-port town where it is based. The company turns fresh fish caught in local nets or farmed at sea into portioned export items for the dinner table or for processing: these include a wide variety of frozen, wet-salted and dried & salted (klippfish) products. Norwegian efficacy extracts multiple benefits from fish, the high-tech production facilities of BLT Berg LipidTech AS produce special marine oils and concentrates - from crude oils to fully refined grades - in bulk for the pharmaceutical, health food, functional food and cosmetics industries.
EU-approved processing facilities underlined the excellent year experienced by exporters of stockfish and dried and salted cod, while suppliers of herring, mackerel and capelin broke records in 2001 as exports of pelagic (schooling) fish reached USD 824 million, up over 30 per cent over the preceding year. The rapid processing of cod, which begins when the fish is caught, utilizes Norwegian expertise and the latest freezing technology for a whiter, firmer, flakier fish meat while locking in its delicate flavour. Moreover, 2002 heralds, for Norwegians, an era where high technology ensures the future viability of the seafood sector and the withdrawal of government subsidy.
Norwegian salmon-and-trout heavyweight, Pan Fish ASA, forecasts that total world aquaculture production will have to quadruple by 2030 to meet the increasing demand of expanding human populations. The current demand for Norwegian seafood in present markets and those in developing markets points at further growth. Fresh Norwegian fish usually reaches markets outside Paris in two days, New York in four days. Today, consumers in Poland, Russia, Ukraine - and increasingly Japan (the Japanese salmon market grows by 10 to 15 per cent annually) - demand fresh Norwegian salmon along with Norwegian seafood processed in accordance with local tastes.
Poland and Ukraine imported NOK 1 billion worth of Norwegian herring in 2001, a favourite in both countries, despite its soaring price. While the EU is still the primary market for Norwegian seafood, primarily Norwegian salmon, there are markets developing on every continent. Market-savvy Norwegian suppliers have learned that certain species are unsuitable for certain markets. Yet reliable delivery systems, like refrigeration containers loaded directly onto cargo vessels, enable Norwegian companies to export various types of fish to the markets that can afford them, even if the market is a world away. So, while prices for herring and mackerel might suit consumers in Eastern Europe's recovering economies, blue whiting could be sold to markets with strong demand but where buying power is limited by exchange rates.
Norwegian exports to Eastern Europe increased by over 40 per cent in 2001, and by over 70 per cent in Ukraine. China bought 40 per cent more Norwegian seafood, and South Korea imported 17 per cent more of Norway's fish. Norway's Pan Fish ASA, one of the world's largest allround seafood producers, recently bought shares in fishing vessels and in the herring oil and pelagic fish subsidiaries of two other companies. The company now offers an overall view of the life cycles of its entire product line, including the blue whiting and capelin it hopes to introduce to developing markets.
In the USA, where market growth for seafood outpaces all others, and in Germany, Pan Fish and its Norwegian competitors aim to sell seafood portions to Americans and Germans too busy to cope with round fish (frozen whole fish). Atlantic Seafood AS, in a dash of market-opening élan, is selling haddock in North America, while exporting Greenland halibut and redfish to Japan. To satisfy demand - primarily in Brazil, France, Italy and Portugal - Atlantic Seafood makes klippfish from cod, coalfish (saithe), tusk (cusk), ling and haddock.
Norwegian companies work hard to adapt their products to local preferences and culinary customs. When exporting to catering and retail markets, the best of Norwegian seafood traditions is selected. Prepared fish products exporter Agra Group (Mills DA) is aided by subsidiaries in Central Europe in offering a range of marinated herring, seafood salads and cod-roe caviar, to name a few. From the young, wealthy Muscovites boldly sampling grilled salmon, to the Japanese retailer boasting first-hand knowledge of Norwegian trout - and the rising tide of American and Chinese demand - fish is 'in'.
Norwegian seafood industry insiders quietly concede that former marketing strategies with pictures of Norwegian seafood actually worked to the advantage of competitors, as the appearance of Norwegian fish inspired a general buying spree. Now, fish will require quality assurance documents. Effective January 1st, 2002, rules are in force throughout the EU for the point-of-origin labelling of seafood products, reflecting general food-safety concerns in Europe. Norwegian suppliers are conforming to these quality-assurance safeguards, which are also intended to protect them from competition.
Fish caught or farmed in clean, cold Norwegian waters will be labelled as such. More regulations may be forthcoming, aimed at standards that begin with seafood handling. The EU backed Tracefish programme still hopes to present a workable plan for the electronic transmission of qualitative data, consumer and scientific, to every participant country. Customers may at last understand that fish caught in different waters tastes differently, and truly bad fish can be traced without destroying healthy fish.