How to maximize revenue by adding value to shellfish

“Can we make farmed shellfish as popular as farmed salmon, because that is our challenge,” asked Stephen Cameron, MD of the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG) at the recent Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers conference in Oban, Argyll.

“Scottish salmon has an impressive market penetration, with fresh retail sales alone valued at GBP 765 million (USD 1.2 billion, EUR 1.1 billion) in 2014, not to mention the diverse range of added value smoked salmon products available. Mussels currently have a market penetration of 10 percent, but I want to double that figure as production increases over the next five years,” he said.

U.K. consumers spent GBP 6.3 billion (USD 9.7 billion, EUR 8.8 million) on seafood in 2014, split half and half between retail purchase and out of home eating. 5,000 metric tons (MT) of mussels were sold in U.K. retail outlets, making up just 1.5 percent of the total seafood volume, along with 2 million oysters, or 140 MT. Twice as many oysters were sold in foodservice.

When Cameron joined SSMG in 2008, 70 percent of the cooperative’s mussels were destined for the fresh counter market and only 30 percent for added value, while the combined value of shellfish sales was GBP 6 million (USD 9.2 million, EUR 8.3 million). Today, just 25 percent of the mussels go for fresh sale, and 75 percent for added value, and the turnover has increased to more than GBP 15 million (USD 22.9 million, EUR 20.7 million).

“Most people think a product has to undergo some complicated processing to make it more valuable, but for shellfish it can be a lot more straightforward than that,” he said.

“Adding primary value to mussels can be as simple as putting them in a fixed weight pack, or removing the byssus and selling them ‘pot ready.’ For oysters, having a fixed weight shell or a set number in a pack can also be a value-added step. Certifying shellfish as sustainable and selling 364 days a year is definitely adding value,” he said.

SSMG also specializes in secondary value adding, producing an ever-increasing range of cooked mussels in sauce, as well as mussel chowder.

“It’s not just about playing with flavors, although we need to keep up with the latest trends, but it’s also about enhancing the consumer experience to make it easier for them to enjoy our shellfish at home. We have just installed new machinery to make one-person sized packs of mussels in sauce, and our chowder comes in a microwave friendly bowl that can be used to serve it,” he explained.

“Extending the shelf life through modified atmosphere packing (MAP) makes the shopping experience better for consumers and has the added benefit of being leak-proof, whilst producing large MAP packs for chefs helps them to save on waste.”

A growing population, both within and outside the United Kingdom, means there are ample opportunities to grow the market for mussels, especially given a recovering economy. However, Cameron questioned the way in which Scottish farmed mussels are currently marketed and believes that subtle changes are needed.

“We still make a big play of the fact that they are rope grown, have full meats and are grit free, whereas this should be a given, and we need to move on from this,” he said.

“We have a healthy, sustainable, tasty and versatile product with a low price point, and with some innovative product development the sky should be the limit to what we can offer! We are already looking at some exciting recipes for Christmas, such as oysters Rockefeller and mussels in the half shell filled with whisky and haggis, and are working on some whole meal solutions as well.”

He warned however, that the business needs to fully embrace a market driven supply chain approach in order to deliver customer value in the future, and that to achieve this there needs to be culture change within the whole supply chain.

“Today’s business is all about market focus, collaborating to ensure that customer and consumer needs can be met, aligning supply to meet demand, creating and delivering strong brand values, being innovative and ambitious.

“That starts with the farm, making sure that producers deliver the best quality, food safe product, extends through the processing, packaging and delivery, and ends on the shelf, where hopefully the product has tempted the consumer to buy it, and to make repeat purchases. This means working closely with the retailers to make sure they know how to store and display our mussels and oysters, especially when they are a live product. You would be surprised how often our efforts to deliver a high quality product can fall down at this point, due to inadequate counter staff training,” he told the audience.

Cameron is positive that Scottish farmed shellfish has a bright future, not just in the United Kingdom, but across Europe, where SSMG’s products can be found from Switzerland to Slovakia.


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