Scottish salmon takes center stage
In a move not seen for almost a decade, Scottish salmon farmers joined forces last weekend to promote their industry and product at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland’s premier agricultural event.
Organized by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organization (SSPO), the stand was a major attraction in the food hall. Carpeted in artificial grass dotted with picnic tables made from recycled salmon floats, it had a wrap-around backdrop of salmon cages in a loch, and a shore-side café serving fresh seafood, which made visitors believe they could almost feel the sea breeze. A central barbecue gave off an enticing aroma of grilled salmon, and drew in the crowds for a free taster and the chance to find out all about the health benefits of eating farmed salmon.
Was this a change of policy for the SSPO, whose members have long rejected U.K. marketing efforts, preferring a focus on more lucrative export markets?
“No,” said SSPO’s Julie Edgar. “This is Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, which is being heavily promoted by the Scottish Government. As salmon is the country’s most valuable food export, and a major contributor to the economy, our members decided it was timely to help the public understand more about the industry, whilst enjoying its taste at this popular event. The Highland Show attracts around 180,000 people each year, the vast majority of whom come through the food hall and past our stand.”
As well as hosting management from all the top Scottish companies, the stand featured farm managers and workers, all keen to answer questions from the public, to bust the myths that persist about this particular aquaculture raised species and to promote career opportunities to young people.
Visitors were surprised at how large salmon cages were, wondering what they were fed on, why the flesh was pink, how long they took to grow to table size and whether they harmed wild salmon stocks. All queries were ably answered, and the public reassured that salmon farming is not the bad guy it is made out to be.
“It’s really great to be involved with this initiative, because it has a tangible ‘feel good’ factor,” said Su Cox, sales and communications director of the Scottish Salmon Company. “The Highland Show is about people and communities, and that is the ethos of our own company, which incidentally won Business of the Year at the recent Scotland Food and Drink Awards.”
“The whole industry is working hard to ensure that we produce a high quality, sustainable, environmentally friendly product, using farming best practice, and introducing innovations such as wrasse, which act as cleaner fish and keep parasites to a minimum in the cages. We are also experimenting with farming mussels and seaweed alongside the salmon cages, to improve the flow of nutrients in the water,” she said.
For many years, salmon has featured in the top 5 foods enjoyed by U.K. consumers and last year it accounted for 40 percent of food exports from Scotland and topped the list of U.K. food exports.
Export sales of Scottish farmed salmon have more than tripled in the past decade, are currently worth nearly GBP 500 million (USD 788.2 million, EUR 703.2 million) per year, and underpin the increasing importance of this fish to the domestic economy.
According to SSPO chief Scott Landsburgh, the export trade has been built solidly on the concept of Scottish provenance, along with the quality and flavor of the fish, and these are equally important within Scotland. In 2014 more than 100,000 metric tons (MT) of fresh salmon, the highest level ever, was sent to over 65 different countries.
France was the number one market for Scottish salmon until 2009, when it was pushed into second place by the United States, where sales topped 41,000 MT in 2014, with a value of over GBP 213 million (USD 335.8 million, EUR 299.6 million). The Far East is an increasingly important destination, and the value of salmon exports to China rose from a standing start in 2009 to nearly GBP 64 million (USD 100.9 million, EUR 90 million) in 2014, placing it third in the salmon export table. The Middle East is another significant emerging market, with imports of salmon from the U.K. valued at GBP 13 million (USD 20.1 million, EUR 18.3 million) last year.