Marel spending EUR 60 million on innovations to help boost seafood yields

Published on
September 21, 2017

The processing technology needed to vastly improve the yield from the current global supply of seafood and thereby raise the amount of seafood available to consumer markets is already accessible, according to Sigurdur Olason, managing director of Icelandic processing equipment and services provider Marel Fish.

Speaking at the World Seafood Congress 2017 (WSC) in Reykjavik, Olason said that the unprecedented growth rate of the global population with 9 billion people to walk the face of the Earth by 2050, “presents a huge, huge challenge,” for everyone, not least for the food processing sector which he estimated will need to ramp up its output by 50 percent.

“A lot of seafood is being brought to the market and the industry has a large customer base of some 3 billion people, so we must be doing something right. But while the supply chain continues to do good things together, we must improve because according to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) too much fish is going to waste.”

The latest FAO estimate is that the current food loss from the fish and seafood sector is 35 percent.

Every stage of the supply chain is culpable; from the initial catch or harvest right through to the point of purchase, Olason told delegates.

“As an equipment provider, we cannot do it alone; neither can the processors or the harvesters – it requires a combined effort, otherwise we will fail.

“At Marel, we will continue to focus on innovation. We are now spending EUR 60 million (USD 72 million) per annum on it, but even though that is a high number, it won’t help us if we are not all aligned. We will need to continue to rely on the wild catch with regulated fisheries managed in a sustainable way, and we need to see the modernization of the farmed fish sector, including the introduction of other species,” he said.

Olason acknowledged that the salmon industry had been taking positive steps, particularly in terms of coming up with practical solutions to solve its challenges, including its biological difficulties.

“And if you compare salmon (feed conversion, edible yield etc.) with other animal proteins, we see that farmed fish is definitely the answer. That is why it’s the sector with the most rapid growth.”

With regards to its equipment, Olason explained that Marel’s focus is on solutions that enable processors to deliver affordable consumer products by scaling up their throughput capacity and yield.

“This is definitely having an impact on the industry.”

For example, Marel’s new FleXicut system – used for various whitefish species – automatically detects and removes pin bones to enable optimum portioning and minimize offcuts. 

This improves the primary quality and yield of each fillet, he said. 

Far greater productivity levels are also being achieved. Compared to the manual processing conducted circa 1990 which brought some 12 kg of throughput per man-hour, in 2017 with a FleXicut system this now stands at 190 kg per man-hour.

“Technology matters. It will be the crucial thing in helping us feed the world.”

However, the seafood processing sector is still guilty of misplacing its efforts. Seventy-five percent of companies’ costs are in raw materials and that is where they should focus more to improve, but at the moment, most companies tend to focus on the lesser 25 percent, which includes costs such as administration, sales and marketing, distribution and labor, he said.

“We need to focus on the raw materials and getting it out into the market.

“In the future, profits will be made in processing and distribution. Technology is definitely going to be a big enabler, and we don’t have to wait – the level of automation can already be raised across all sectors.

“The future is now, there is no need to wait. Let’s invest in the future and transform the way food is processed,” said Olason.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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