Foodservice the great ‘testing ground’ for seafood product R&D

By

Lauren Kramer, Contributing Editor

Published on
March 18, 2015

When the team at High Liner Foods sat down to brainstorm new product lines 18 months ago, one of the company’s challenges was coming up with seafood items that could go beyond the typical dinner or lunch entrée format. The idea of pulled barbeque salmon was suggested, a play off of pulled pork. Looks like it was a good idea, as the product won the Seafood Excellence Award for Best New Foodservice Product at Seafood Expo North America this week.

“The advantages of pulled barbeque salmon are that because it’s fully cooked, it can go into a number of areas where historically, seafood hasn’t played well in,” said Keith Decker, president and CEO at High Liner Foods USA. “For example, it could easily go into Subway as a toasted salmon sandwich, and be served at Panera or other high-end sandwich shops. It can be a salad topper or an ingredient for a wrap and it could be used for more than one meal occasion by colleges and universities, catering and casual dining restaurants.”

Decker was looking for an opportunity to get into the snacking marketplace with a high-quality product. The salmon, slow cooked in a barbeque sauce and delivered in cryovac packaging, answered all those needs. Still, the recognition from Seafood Expo judges was a great reassurance.

“The judges look for uniqueness and great taste, and this product has both,” he said. “But they also look at marketability of a product in their selection, determining the likelihood that a product will become commercially successful, that it will be in the marketplace five years from now and that it will become one of the mainstays of the seafood industry.”

While the pulled barbeque salmon is destined for foodservice, Decker is not ruling out the possibility it will be marketed to retail in the future, too.

“We tend to put products into foodservice first because it enables us to test them in the market,” he said. “Retail is expensive in the product development side of the business, because to put a product on the shelf across the United States probably costs USD 2 million (EUR 1,809) in slotting fees, national coupons, television and print advertisements. So we tend to use foodservice as our testing ground. Once we get real time feedback from our operators we make a decision about putting that product into retail, usually within the first 18 to 24 months of the product’s lifespan.” There’s no set sales number at which point a new product is determined a success, he added. “What’s important is validating the concept and getting feedback from operators.”

High Liner’s prowess at new-product development is evident this year, as it was the only company with two products among the list of finalists. Its second was Fish n Chips on a Stick, an item consisting of cod strips battered, rolled in fried potatoes, fried and skewered. The product was inspired by the trend towards handheld food products. Decker said the it will work well as an appetizer at casual dining chains, sports bars and kids’ menus, as well as eateries serving on-the-go food. Also destined for foodservice, Fish n Chips on a Stick requires deep frying prior to serving. Decker was uncertain it would translate well to a retail application but said it might have a future in the club store environment.

Another finalist at Seafood Expo North America was King & Prince Seafood’s “Sensations,” a line of blended crab and surimi targeted at foodservice operators wanting to serve premium seafood at an affordable price.

“Premium seafood items like scallops and jumbo lump crab continue to be expensive and have seasonality and sourcing issues,” said Sue Gurkin, director of innovation for the Brunswick, Ga.-based company. “For example, crab prices have been increasing significantly over the past two years and last spring there were shortages of jumbo lump crab, which meant operators were having to pull crab from their menus.”King & Prince’s patented technology enabled the development of a blend with the same flavor and texture as jumbo lump crab, but with improved handling and an affordable price. Research and development took 22 months from concept through launch and the team developed a phosphate-free product with a ‘clean’ label.

“These blends allow operators to offer these premium seafoods at affordable prices with consistent supplies. And they have a variety of applications from seafood cakes, salads, ceviche, wraps, pasta dishes, soups and pizza toppings. The possibilities are endless,” she said.

There were some 72 contestants at the 2015 Seafood Expo North America, held 15-17 March, with products ranging from lobster butter to salmon burgers and fried shrimp. Interestingly, the new product range at the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, held 21-23 April, is significantly different from what’s offered in Boston. Last year’s finalists included a paella dish by Delfin Ultracongelados in Ontigola, Spain, consisting of all the ingredients to make a traditional seafood paella at home. The best new foodservice product was a mussel powder by Vilsund Blue in Denmark, an additive-free flavoring powder used to season seafood dishes, sauces, poultry, meat and vegetables. And the best new retail product last year was a kit made by Kermarée in France, containing four varieties of fresh cooked shellfish, so that consumers could easily assemble a shellfish platter at home. 

“The flavor profiles for products are quite different in Europe than in North America,” said Pat Shanahan of the Shanahan Group in Seattle, which coordinates both competitions. “The North American products are formulated for American tastes and eating styles. For example, the idea of portable food is very American. By contrast, the European competition is much more global and the taste profiles in Europe lean more towards traditional ways of eating fish and seafood.”

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