Why Norwegian seafood needs game-changers

Published on
February 2, 2018

Political issues – particularly the potential impacts of Brexit – are weighing heavily on the minds of many Norwegian seafood companies. But these businesses are also being warned that they need to be alert to the shifting consumer trends that are fast changing the way that all food is being bought and eaten.

Asbjørn Warvik Rørtveit, director of market insights and market access at the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC), said that a gap now existed between what consumers expect and what the seafood industry is in a position to offer. He added that while some market trends were relatively easy to meet and would give “potential quick wins,” others were “more fundamental” and could dramatically change the course of the seafood sector. 

The quick wins should come from the increased consumer demand for healthy food, as well as product authenticity, traceability, and sustainability, he said.

“Seafood has an excellent health profile. In general, it is better than all other foods. And huge consumer groups want to eat more seafood because it’s healthy,” Rørtveit said. “This is a position that we need to utilize and capitalize on. The opportunity is there for the taking – we need to make more seafood available to health-oriented consumers in their daily lives.

Speaking at the 2018 Norwegian-U.K. Summit, hosted by the NSC, Rørtveit said the industry’s communication with consumers would become more important in the future.

“Authenticity is a standard consumer value in 2018. People always remember a good story and this is value added to our products. The skrei story is a very good example of this, but there is the potential to tell many more stories about fish,” he said. “And consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it is produced, what the consequences of its production are, what additives are used, so transparency and traceability are important. These are issues that Norwegian seafood exporters can deliver on; it’s just a question about how we communicate them with consumers.”

But to capitalize on these trends and also enable long-term market growth, Rørtveit said it was crucial that Norway’s seafood industry addressed the historical failings of fish as a convenience product and also got onboard with the shift to online purchasing.

“Convenience is a battle; it’s where seafood has been lagging behind for decades. Apart from the sushi trend and fish and chips we are not really challenging the meat industry,” Rørtveit said. “There are companies today in the seafood industry that have to pull their acts together. We need more convenient stores and more convenient products. And when it comes to fish, it needs to be not only physically available but also mentally available to consumers in many more locations and situations. We need solutions that can be a game-changer.”

In regard to supplying convenient fish products, Rørtveit reckons that the United Kingdom has come quite a long way compared to other markets. But he also cautioned that consumer needs would continue to evolve and that this would lead to increased demand for even more convenient food, on-the-go offerings and a broader range of ready-to-eat seafood products.A steady supply of quality fish is needed to serve the market with convenient products, 24-7 and 365 days a year, and this is something that the Norwegian seafood industry could deliver on, he said. 

It is, however, the online retail space that is increasingly changing how consumers access goods that he believes will provide the most disruption for seafood sales in the future.

“We are always connected and this will change professional business dramatically,” he said. “Even though online retail shopping is still a small channel, it is growing rapidly. New players are emerging and challenging traditional retailers.”

In a recent survey conducted by the NSC, many traditional seafood consumers said that they did not trust the quality of fresh seafood when buying online, Rørtveit cautioned.

“But I think that this will be the other way around for the next generation of seafood consumers. They will find it highly convenient for high-quality, fresh seafood to be delivered just before consumption,” he said. “We also all know how important the cold chain is for seafood and just-in-time delivery would help secure quality and could reduce waste. So I think that the online trend opens up a whole range of possibilities for the seafood industry that we need to grasp.”

Rørtveit said he remains positive that Norway can step up to play a major role in the seafood markets of the future.

“Seafood from Norway has all the right attributes, but we need to adjust our products for the future demand and preferences. We can’t expect consumers to buy seafood from us if we don’t adapt, so this is a challenge that we need to take on with enthusiasm,” he said.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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