Skrei: A chef’s secret no longer
The demand for skrei in the U.K. market has grown to record levels this year, with the country’ retail sector also now picking up on the product’s potential in the fresh fish category. In spite of a slow start to the current catching season, it’s believed total skrei sales in the first two months trebled compared to the corresponding period of 2015.
Much of skrei’s growing appeal is down to its limited availability. While it is Norwegian Arctic cod – from one of the most abundant fisheries in the world – it is a special run of this wandering ocean stock that’s renowned for its lean meat and a distinct taste.
The actual name “skrei” comes from an old Norse word that means to move forward or migrate; and every year – usually between January and April – millions of large, mature fish duly undertake their annual journey from the Barents Sea to the spawning grounds that surround Norway’s Lofoten islands. But while the fish numbers are significant, only a very small percentage of the cod landed will actually be branded with a skrei tag on their dorsal fin.
In order to be classified as skrei, the fish needs to be caught fully grown before it has spawned (approximately 5 years old); the skin needs to be immaculate with no scratches, bruising or injuries; and it should be packaged within 12 hours of being caught. In a normal catch, no more than 10 percent of the cod can be classified as skrei.
Skrei also tends to come at a higher price – on average between 20 percent and 30 percent more than regular cod, and this premium is largely attributed to the required handling procedures.
Despite the dominance of cod within the United Kingdom’s fish and chip trade and the ever popular coated fish category, several high-end restaurants have found that the story of skrei’s provenance is an increasingly strong selling point for their clientele. As such, some of the country’s best known chefs have been using skrei in their kitchens this year, among them Michel Roux Jr., Monica Galetti, Robin Gill, Simon Hulstone and Daniel Galmiche.
As a product, the restaurant trade favors the versatility of larger skrei (6-8 kg-plus).
A growing number of retailers have also become hooked on the product. In addition to select fishmongers, skrei is now being stocked in Whole Foods Market stores, Selfridges and Harrods, and soon Booths will list the fish due to high customer demand for the product.
Since skrei exports are routed through Denmark, calculating exact figures for the volume coming into the United Kingdom is not a straightforward task, but the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) estimates that in January and February this year, Norway exported 51 MT of skrei to the market, compared to 17 MT in the same two months of 2015. It should also be noted that last year, Norway doubled the volume of it skrei exports to the United Kingdom, and the NSC’s U.K. office told SeafoodSource that the aim is to repeat that feat in 2016.
However, skrei’s overseas popularity isn’t limited to just the U.K. market. It was only introduced to the country three years ago; by which time, strong demand had already been created in Spain, Belgium, Germany and France, mainly with chefs.
Norway currently supplies the global market with between 4,000 metric tons (MT) and 5,000 MT of skrei per year.
This month, the NSC reported the total volume of skrei exports in January and February increased by 53 percent year-on-year to 2,807 MT. But because of the slow start to the season, 2,115 MT of this total was exported last month.
In value terms, February’s exports amounted to NOK 75.4 million (USD 8.8 million, EUR 7.9 million), which was 73 percent or NOK 32 million (USD 3.8 million, EUR 3.4 million) more than a year previously, with the average price up by 20 percent to NOK 48.73 (USD 5.17, EUR 5.14) per kg.
These prices should be expected to go down, though. Traditionally, the price of skrei is high in the opening weeks of a new season and then it eases as the season reaches full swing and more product becomes available.