It’s all in the marketing

Given a choice of warmwater or coldwater prawn species, I prefer to plump for the latter, especially if they are large, juicy langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus) or jumbo-sized Pandalus borealis. King prawns (Penaeus vannamei) and black tiger prawns (P. monodon) just don’t cut it for me on the taste front.

Yet the popularity of these warmwater species is continuing unabated in the United Kingdom, taking over other species in both the retail and foodservice sectors. And it’s all down to getting the market positioning right.

In the 12 weeks ending 23 January, UK consumers purchased 18,082 tons of coldwater prawns valued at GBP 164 million, down 3 percent in volume and 2 percent in value from 2008. This compares with 15,202 tons of warmwater prawns valued at GBP 188 million, up 14 percent in volume and 10 percent in value. And this upward trend is expected to continue.

Retail purchases of fresh and frozen langoustines amounted to just 36 tons worth GBP 559,000, a massive 57.5 percent drop in volume and 36.3 percent drop in value compared to 2008. On the other hand, scampi, which under EU law must be made with langoustine tails, is positioned as a fast food and became more popular in 2009, selling 6,198 tons worth GBP 57 million, up 7.4 percent in volume and 1.9 percent in value, according to Nielson data.

Langoustines were the single most valuable species to the Scottish fishing industry in 2009, with landings of 32,765 tons valued at more than GBP 95.5 million. The vast majority of whole UK langoustines are exported fresh and frozen to Spain, France and Italy, where consumers are willing to pay a high price for a quality product. However, the market for tails is not so buoyant, despite the increase in UK scampi consumption, and there is currently a vast oversupply of tails sitting in cold storage looking for a purchaser.

It appears that people are happy to peel a tropical king prawn but struggle to imagine doing the same for a langoustine tail. This is not down to taste, cost or availability, but to poor presentation and a lack of marketing to a mass audience.

However, a top Scottish chef is developing a langoustine tail product that will hit the shelves in the near future and it is hoped that with the right marketing and branding, this will be a roaring success.

The new product uses the latest technology, incorporating an upward freezing air stream, which suspends the langoustine tails and prevents them clumping together. It also freezes the product very quickly, locking in natural moisture, which gives a higher meat yield on thawing.

High quality may help sales, but persuading the customer to use langoustine in everyday cooking is what will make a difference to sales. And for that to happen, presentation and shelf presence has to improve.

This type of comparison can be made for many other species landed in the UK but rarely seen at the seafood counter. For instance, there is plenty of imported pangasius and tilapia, but rarely local hake and megrim. The first two are mild, inexpensive and well marketed, while the others are tasty and abundant, but difficult to give away in the UK. They are, however, much appreciated in southern Europe.

Brown crab is also inexpensive and abundant, yet consumers are more likely to see a defrosted imported lobster in their local store than a fresh crab. Perhaps this is because crab is still only associated with seaside holiday sandwiches, while its insipid cousin is somehow special.

If our amazing variety of high quality seafood is to be properly appreciated at home, then it has to be marketed intelligently, so the consumer treats it as a normal purchase and not a daring culinary adventure.

Evidence shows that successful market repositioning can be very effective. One only needs to look at monkfish — the species was once considered cat food, but now it’s a staple of many dinner-party menus.

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