Looking back to look forward
By Nicki Holmyard, SeafoodSource contributing editor
03 January, 2012
News outlets are awash with soothsayers at this time of year, predicting what will happen to everything from the weather and the economy to the price and supply of food. Whatever the commodity, forecasts are inevitably based on historical performance, current information and a healthy pinch of guesswork.
This process is currently being applied to the Scottish seafood industry in the hope of matching supply with demand in the coming year.
In the 52 weeks through the end of November, the latest date for which figures are available from Nielsen Scantrack, the UK seafood market was valued at GBP 2.87 million, up 3.7 percent from the previous year. Total volume at 358,000 metric tons was slightly down by 1.6 percent.
The market is split into fresh, frozen and ambient, all of which exceeded their performance in value during the year. Fresh rose by 4.2 percent to GBP 1.64 million, frozen by 1.7 percent to GBP 760 million and ambient by 6.4 percent to GBP 485 million. Whilethe frozen category rose in volume by 0.7 percent, fresh fell by 0.8 percent and ambient by 5.8 percent. Analysts predict that the frozen category will continue to gain importance during the coming year as cash-strapped consumers seek lower-cost foods.
In the fresh fish category in 2011, salmon retained its top ranking in value, where it rose by 8 percent. Second most valuable was warmwater prawns, followed by cod, haddock and coldwater prawns. Mackerel, trout, tuna, sea bass and mussels made up the remainder of the top 10.
In terms of volume and therefore popularity, salmon was at the top of the list, followed by mackerel, no doubt assisted by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, who put considerable effort last year into persuading people to switch to mackerel as a healthy and sustainable alternative. However, if the ongoing dispute with Iceland and the Faeroes over mackerel quotas has still yet to be settled, then Marine Stewardship Council-certified mackerel fisheries will have their certificates suspended by the end of March. It is uncertain at this stage how retailers will react to this.
The third most popular species with consumers was haddock, followed by warmwater prawns, cod, coldwater prawns, mussels and trout. Sea bass and tuna were ranked 12th and 13th, respectively.
On the salmon front, the high values of 2010 are once again a thing of the past, with the ex-farm price dropping considerably last year driven by Chile returning the market. This may be good for processors and retailers, but the availability of fish at a lower price resulted in less promotional activity, with the knock-on effect of slightly reduced sales. After all, consumers love a bargain.
This year looks set to be an interesting one for the UK smoked salmon market, as the Polish-owned Meridian Salmon Co. completes a new processing facility in Scotland. The company’s “Scottish smoked salmon” is expected to be a major competitor.
Good news came in December from the Scottish government, which announced that finfish and shellfish were the top food export of 2011, accounting for GBP 632 million. Total food exports broke the GBP 1 billion mark for the first time, leading Fisheries and Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead to hail 2011 as a “momentous year” for the industry.
Efforts are now underway to increase the Scottish seafood presence in key markets, particularly China, where significant growth is expected in the next few years.
Fish and chips remains one of the most popular dishes in the UK, and a recent report in the Scottish Daily Record reports that passengers on Scotland’s island ferries ate an astonishing 15 metric tons of fried haddock last year alongside 78 metric tons of chips! In fact, they accounted for more than one-third of all meals sold on Caledonian MacBrayne’s (CalMac) Hebridean fleet. Only a small minority of travelers (2 percent) opted for a healthy smoked salmon salad, causing the country’s leading food expert, Aberdeen University professor Hugh Pennington, to express his disappointment.
“These figures illustrate the problem of getting people to eat healthily if given free choice. It’s disappointing but it is a matter of taste, and getting people to switch to the nutritional choice is not easy,” he said.
However, food writer Lady Clare Macdonald from the Isle of Skye pointed out that light, healthy meals are not likely to be chosen on rough crossings.
“After the summer we’ve had, when you are being buffeted by the waves, the healthy option is the last thing on your mind. However, if the sun beats down next year, smoked salmon salad will go from 2 percent to 82 percent,” she said.
Writing this by candlelight in the middle of yet another ferocious winter storm, with fingers crossed that my laptop battery lasts, I have to agree with her. Bring on the fried fish, once electricity is restored!
03 January, 2012