Europe celebrates Christmas with smoked salmon, luxury seafood

Published on
December 24, 2014

With the festive season in full swing this week, food is a major focus of the celebrations, and luxury seafood in particular plays a central role.

Sales of smoked salmon and lobster increase dramatically at this time, with families both eating and gifting seafood. According to Young’s Seafood, the UK’s leading smoked salmon processor, smoked salmon is a firm favorite of British families for Christmas morning breakfast.

Young’s cites recent research by OnePoll, which questioned 2,000 people about their festive food and drink habits and found that smoked salmon, mostly served on toast with scrambled eggs, is one of the top choices.

Young’s Seafood’s own research shows that an extra 2.1 million shoppers buy smoked salmon at Christmas (Kantar Worldpanel — four weeks to 5 January 2014), spending some GBP 24 million (USD 37.3 million, EUR 30.6 million) compared to GBP 9 million (USD 14 million, EUR 11.5 million) in an average four weeks during the rest of the year.

“Smoked salmon is such a Christmas favorite and we’re proud to use our traditional smoking skills to help make the festive season special for families across the U.K.,” said Pete Ward, deputy chief executive of Young’s Seafood.

For Scottish-based Associated Seafoods, Christmas is always a busy period, with notable increases in sales around the globe, especially for the company’s premium Scottish smoked salmon.

“We currently export to 24 countries, including the Middle East, Europe, Mexico, U.S.A., and Hong Kong and exports account for approximately 80 percent of our overall sales,” said Henry Angus, commercial director at Associated Seafoods.

“We emphasize the Scottish provenance of our smoked salmon, and the traditional artisanal smoking techniques involved in its production. Consumers like to go for the best quality foodstuffs for their festive menus and this benefits us greatly.

“Shellfish sales are also very strong over the Christmas period and the new export markets we have developed for value-added crab are experiencing strong demand,” he said.

The Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG) also notes a full order book this year.

“There has been a definite trend in recent years for a distinct increase in sales in the run-up to Christmas. This year we are predicting that the volume of fresh mussels and mussel-ready meals will be a third higher compared with the rest of the year,” said Stephen Cameron, managing director of SSMG. “Consumers are becoming increasingly adventurous in their tastes and it appears they are on the lookout for tasty alternatives to the more traditional Christmas foods. Children also tend to love mussels, which is an important factor when making family meal choices.”

U.K. retailers see record-breaking seasonal demand for luxury fish and shellfish in December, with well over USD 31 million (EUR 25.4 million) spent during the month on these items alone. On the shelves this year are many different preparations using fresh and smoked salmon, from roulades and pates, to canapés and terrines. Smoked salmon cures include whisky, black treacle and winter spice, with smoke flavors including chestnut, maple and thyme. One indulgent pack from Marks & Spencer offered a whisky cure dusted with gold leaf.

Luxury seafood platters with scallops and prawns abound, along with whole and dressed crab and lobster. This year, seven major U.K. stores are featuring frozen Canadian lobster in their Christmas range, much of it on promotion to attract buyers.

If the British eat seafood for breakfast, in Southern Italy, where Christmas Eve is celebrated with a seafood feast, the meal takes on a religious significance, as families serve seven fish to represent the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, 10 for the Stations of the Cross, or 13 for the 12 Apostles and Jesus.

This feast, sometimes known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes (Festa dei sette pesci) has also been popularized by Italian-Americans, who prepare elaborate versions of the meal, with each fish dish cooked in a different manner. Lobster is generally the centerpiece of such feasts and Canadian and Maine lobster sales soar at this time. Of the USD 50 million (EUR 41 million) of American lobster imported to Italy in 2013, more than one-fifth was delivered in December.

France is another important importer of lobster from the United States, with sales exceeding USD 35 million, more than a third of which is delivered in December. Much of this will appear on tables on Christmas Eve, as the French celebrate Réveillon (awakening), with a fine meal after Midnight Mass.

Eastern Europeans enjoy freshwater fish during the festive season, with carp being the most prized fish. Fried, roasted, grilled and broiled, carp takes the place of honor on the traditional Christmas Eve table in many countries.

Wherever you celebrate this year and whatever seafood you enjoy, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.


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