Thursday, September 10, 2009

Norway to fill the void left by Chile’s collapsing salmon export

Norway’s salmon farmers stand ready to grab a huge chunk of the U.S. fish market left by Chile’s shrinking salmon export to the U.S., which will drop 40 percent in 2009, and another 70 percent in 2010. “Norwegian salmon could jump from five percent of the U.S. market to 25 percent,” says Børge Grønbeck, marketing manager at the Norwegian Seafood Export Council during a visit to New York.

Børge Grønbeck was in New York as part of the export council’s plans to reopen its U.S. office and start a campaign to boost Norway’s export of farmed Atlantic salmon to the U.S. “Chile holds 50-60 percent of the U.S. market, but there has been a serious decline since 2008 due to the ISA-virus (infectious salmon anemia),” he says, adding that Norway, which is the largest producer of farmed salmon in the world, wants to fill the gap left by Chile’s falling export. “We have the capacity and Norwegian salmon is well known,” he says.

Norway produces about 750,000 tons live weight of farmed salmon yearly out of a world production of about 1.5 million tons. The U.S. market for seafood is the third largest in the world, and 88 percent of the U.S. seafood consumption was imported in 2008.

Børge Grønbeck says that Chile’s regulation of its fish farms have been lax, allowing them to sit too close to each other, making the vulnerable to disease. Norway on the other hand, has had a strict regulatory framework, emphasizing sustainability, and spreading out its salmon farms to limit the use of antibiotics. A recent report in the New York Times said that in 2008 Chile used 350 times more antibiotics in its farmed salmon than Norway did in its farms. (718,000 pounds vs. 2,075 pounds)

For Norway, this is not just a one-time shot, but also potentially a long-term gain on its number one international competitor in the farmed salmon business. “It will take many years before Chile is back,“ Børge Grønbeck says.

Filling the void left by Chile is only one part of the new Norwegian strategy. “American eat too little seafood,” he says, adding that this presents both an educational and a PR-challenge. American’s eat relatively little seafood and salmon, which makes the growth potential the bigger. Americans eat on average 7.4 kg seafood per person and year, which is much less that in Europe and Norway (where the seafood consumption is three times the U.S. average.) Farmed salmon captures 15 percent of the seafood consumption in the U.S., which amounts to 280,000 ton. (It takes about 15 kg live weight salmon to produce 7.4 kg filleted salmon.)

The council hopes to teach both the distributors and retailers how to inform the consumer better and be more efficient in selling salmon. It is also important to educate the consumer about the health benefits of eating salmon, and overcome consumer fear of eating fish. “Many consumers simply don’t know how to prepare salmon, and think it is hard to cook it,” he says. “Once you show them, they often burst out that ‘I didn’t know it was that easy!’” When the council had a campaign in Norway to address this issue, it led to a big increase in sales during the grill season.

The Norwegian strategy will also push for easy to prepare meal solutions, better displays in supermarkets, and better branding of Norwegian salmon. In many supermarkets it can be hard to find out where the salmon comes from, and there is little advice for how to select and prepare your salmon.

It seems as Norway have a leg up on its competitors when it comes to farmed salmon, but there are environmentalist that criticize the entire industry of farmed seafood. “The growing global appetite for cheap farmed salmon is imperiling wild fish populations across the planet,” according to scientists quoted by the National Geographic magazine (February 12, 2008.) "Salmon farming seems to have a negative impact on wild salmon," Jennifer Ford, a lead researcher of Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, told the magazine. Her research was however put in doubt by Marine Harvest, the world’s largest salmon farming company. Other factors have contributed to the decline in wild salmon, according to the company.

Hans Sandberg