Brussels blog: Speed dating for seafood

By

April Forristall, SeafoodSource.com assistant editor

Published on
April 19, 2012

Monday, 5:00 p.m. CEST — There’s light at the end of the tunnel for the seven Seafood Prix d’Elite judges. The day is almost over, with only judging for the product line category left.

Since eight of the world’s top seafood buyers came to a consensus on what makes for a good product line, seafood companies should take heed. The judges agreed that any strong product line has to start with a strong base product. They also said since consumers “eat first with their eyes” packaging is yet again a key element.

After all is said and done, and the judges marks being tallied to determine the winners, they gather to discuss trends amongst this year’s 37 finalists. Overall, the judges were impressed with the level of innovation, but lamented that often the seafood was overpowered by a sauce or coating.

“If the raw material is good, then the product will be good,” said one judge. “It’s a shame that with good [raw material] to put something on it to hide the product.”

Another judge agreed but pointed out that there is “no innovation in fish in terms of raw materials; fish is fish, but you should still put the fish on stage and enhance the raw material, not cover it up.”

The judges agreed that the only room for innovation right now is in packaging and marketing.

Stay tuned to SeafoodSource to find out which products won the judges over when the winners are announced at the Seafood Prix d’Elite ceremony beginning at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday in Auditorium 2000 of the Brussels Exhibition Centre. SeafoodSource will be the first to report the results.

Monday, 10 a.m. CEST — A veritable seafood think tank is gathered in a meeting room at the Sheraton Brussels Hotel on the eve of the European Seafood Exposition. The seven judges for the 12th annual Seafood Prix d’Elite new products competition were selected because they are the seafood buyers and merchandisers for some of the top retailers and foodservice operators in their respective countries.

Prepared by the hotel’s sous chef, a new product is brought out every 10 minutes, like speed dating for seafood. The first part of the judging, taste, is done blind — the judges are told nothing but the target market for the product before samples are handed over to them. It is not until the product has been tasted that the judges are presented with the packaging. This allows the judges to taste the product with no pre-conceived notion of the company or country of origin.

But it’s not just taste that can make or break a product during Seafood Prix d’Elite. One product had an unfavorable texture, but the packaging was highly praised; another was one of the most innovative products the judges had seen, but the packaging was less than desirable.

Products are also judged on eating experience, packaging, market potential, convenience, nutritional value and originality.

The judges are quiet with little discussion between them except for the occasional buzz word — such as eye-catching, texture and after-taste — being tossed around.

During a quick palate-cleansing break, I had a few minutes to talk to the judges, who said they’re looking for “that wow factor” when it comes to picking a winner. They also said packaging is a “key element,” because it’s the first thing that sells a product.

With 37 finalists in this year’s competition, the judging will take a total of about six hours. I’ll be talking to the judges again when their duties are finished later this afternoon, so check back in for an update.

Friday, 3:00 p.m. EST — Ever wonder what it takes to judge a new products competition? For the first time ever, I’ll offer insight into the Seafood Prix d’Elite new products competition on Monday with a behind-the-scenes look at the judging process.  

I’ll be there at the Sheraton Brussels Hotel as the three judges carefully examine the 37 finalists on the eve of the European Seafood Exposition. Make sure to check back here to get an insiders’ view on just what the judges are looking for in a new product.

Also, please join us as the winners are unveiled during a reception in Auditorium 2000 of the Brussels Exhibition Grounds beginning at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday. In addition to the grand prizes for the best new retail product and best new foodservice product, five special awards will be presented for originality, convenience, health and nutrition, retail packaging and seafood product line. This year, 11 countries are represented in the competition.

Click here for a look at what’s trendy in this year’s competition.

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