Norway’s seasonal skrei storms the UK foodservice market
Demand for skrei among U.K. chefs has reached an unprecedented level this year with sales of this special run of Norwegian Arctic cod in the opening two weeks of the new season more than double those in the corresponding weeks of 2014. This is despite a slow start to skrei landings and availability.
Every year, between January and April, the Norwegian coastline comes alive for the much anticipated skrei season, when millions of large, mature fish undertake their annual journey from the Barents Sea back to their spawning grounds, which surround Norway’s Lofoten Islands. However, only a very small percentage of all the landed cod will be branded with the special skrei tag on its dorsal fin.
The tag was developed as part of a skrei quality standard that was launched in 2006 and acts very much like a seal of approval or quality assurance.
As well as being a traditional favorite in Norway, strong demand for the product has been created overseas, particularly among chefs in Spain, Belgium, Germany and France. The Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC), the marketing body for Norway’s seafood industry, is confident that the same level of success will soon be replicated in the United Kingdom.
Norway currently supplies the global market with between 4,000 metric tons (MT) and 5,000 MT of skrei per year. In 2014, the Scandinavian country exported between 70 MT and 100 MT of this total to the U.K. market.
While the NSC doesn’t have a U.K. target sales figure for 2015, it does have the objective to get skrei on the menus of 100 of the best restaurants in the market, said Jack-Robert Moller, NSC director for the United Kingdom, who confirmed that there has been “massive interest” in the product.
“This year, we have worked very closely with the distributors and importers to focus on big size fish, 6 kg-plus or 8 kg-plus because this gives the chefs a fantastic product and raw material to work with,” said Moller. “Customers are increasingly looking for products that are of superior quality, have a beautiful story and are sustainable. Skrei has all three.”
To further help promote skrei to the market, the NSC has engaged one of the country’s most respected chefs, Michel Roux Jr., as an ambassador. Roux has already visited skrei grounds west of Tromso, Brensholmen and Senja. He will also be sharing some of his own special skrei recipes and featuring the fish on the menus of his restaurants.
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 packaged within 12 hours of being caught.
In a normal catch, no more than 10 percent can be classified as skrei.
Skrei also comes at a premium price — on average between 20 percent and 30 percent more than regular cod — and this is largely attributed to the required handling procedures.
Due to the limited availability and high demand this year, the average price of skrei in the opening weeks of the new season was between 30 percent and 40 percent higher than at the same stage of 2014, said Moller.
“The price normally drops off when you reach February,” he said.