Making the seafood switch

Norwegians eats less fish than meat despite its ranking as the world’s second largest seafood exporter. The Norwegian Seafood Council is implementing new tactics to persuade Norway, its largest market, and other countries that seafood is the healthier and convenient food choice.

Over the past five decades, the amount of seafood consumed globally has expanded significantly. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation 2010 State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, the annual per capita fish consumption grew from an average of 9.9 kilograms per person in the 1960s to 17.1 kilograms in 2008, supplying over 3 billion people with at least 15% of their average animal protein intake.

The main reason for the boost is the increasing amount of aquaculture production, which is set to overtake capture fisheries as a source of food fish, said the FAO. Total world production of fish and fish products rose from 140 million tonnes in 2007 to 145 million in 2009, with much of the fish coming from aquaculture, which has grown at a rate of almost 7% per annum.

The regions most responsible for the increases in annual per capita fish consumption from 1961 to 2007 are East Asia, Southeast Asia and North Africa. China in particular has experienced a dramatic surge with an average growth rate of 5.7% per year during 1961-2007.

Convince Norwegians
Norwegians however consume less seafood than meat and far below what their potential output could supply as the world’s second largest seafood exporter. According to Merete Kristiansen, Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) marketing director, Norwegians eat about 23 kg per capita of seafood versus about more than 50 kg in animal proteins consumed. The country consumes only about one tenth of its seafood produced and exports the rest.

The main trends driving seafood consumption have been health, convenience, enjoyment, and environment. But the biggest challenge by far is convenience and the development of new seafood products, says Kristiansen. Norwegian companies Salma and Codfarmers, have been clever at developing fresh salmon and cod loins for making sushi at home, and Lerøy, Lofoten and Domstein Enghav with different easy-to-cook products. A survey recently found that one out of four Norwegians that have eaten sushi during the last year made their own sushi at home.

“In the last few years, new things have come to the market that are consumer oriented,” said Kristiansen. “Before it was just fish with skin and bones.”

The council plans to awaken the appetite in its home turf by spending more than NOK 45 million in marketing, four times what it spent just five years ago. This marks the third year in a row since spending NOK 43 million last year and NOK 25 million in 2010. Worldwide, the council plans to spend more than NOK 400 million in marketing Norwegian seafood.

“We are just in the beginning of our push in Norway,” said Marit Stagrum Ottem, NSC marketing director for Norway. 

One way it has cracked the Norwegian market has been through building the Godfisk (Good Fish) brand (www.godfisk.no). The site features recipes and articles promoting new ways to enjoy Norwegian seafood, from quick family meals like Thai style salmon cakes to festive dishes like roasted turbot with soy and hazelnut jus. There has also been a heavy push toward media advertisements, such as television campaigns.

Since the launch of Godfisk in 2000, the council has measured a rise in brand awareness from 33% in 2010 to 61% in 2011, according to Stagrum Ottem. Although it is not possible to measure how much more seafood Norwegians consume because of this campaign, it has clearly risen during that same period. Norway is the single largest market for Norwegian seafood at NOK 5.25 billion.

And Then the World
The council spent the next largest amounts of its marketing funds towards its two biggest export markets, France and Russia in 2011. It used NOK 23.7 million towards marketing three products in Russia, namely Norwegian salmon, trout and herring, and to two main cities Moscow and St. Petersburg, while in France it spent NOK 33.8 million marketing among more fish types and towns.

But there will be other markets gaining more focus in the future. The council recently opened up a representative office in Sweden, its eighth largest export market. Although there are many cultural similarities between Norway and Sweden, the council felt there were different enough food cultures to warrant setting up a base in Stockholm.

Swedes for example are much more concerned about environmental certification labels, such as KRAV and the Marine Stewardship Council, than Norwegians. The council has made a big push lately in marketing Norwegian North East Arctic Cod, which recently received the MSC label along with Norwegian haddock fisheries. In total, 75% of all Norwegian fish are certified.

“It’s a trend that consumers want to know more about their food,” said Lars Fredrik Martinussen, NSC communications adviser, who also recently provided assistance to the Swedish office. 

Another unique market is Spain. Here the council has been targeting mothers with children age 2-14. A series of television ads last year promoted Norwegian salmon as a healthy food that can be prepared in a variety of ways that children like.

A survey found shortly afterwards that among other things there was an increasingly positive attitude among Spanish mothers that salmon in fact was a fish well suited for children. This helped lead to a 17% increase in the volume of Norwegian salmon exports to Spain from 2009 to 2011 and a 16% value growth despite the country’s recent economic woes.

“Even if people go out less, they like to serve a little luxury at home,” said Kristiansen.  “And that’s were seafood comes in.”

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