Demand for skrei among U.K. retailers and chefs has reached an unprecedented level this year with the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) anticipating this special run of Norwegian Arctic cod to appear on the fish counters of high-end stores Whole Foods Market, Booths, Selfridges and Harrods, as well as featuring on the menus of several top restaurants once this year’s season – from February until April 2017 – gets underway.
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 northern Norway spawning grounds. However, only a very small percentage of all the landed cod will be branded with the special skrei tag on their dorsal fins.
The tag was developed as part of a skrei quality standard that was launched in 2006 and acts 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, France and, most recently, the United Kingdom.
Skrei was first introduced into the U.K. market in January 2012. Since then, NSC has worked to build and secure the cod’s premium position in the market. This year, Whole Foods Market in particular will work with the council to promote skrei throughout the season with tastings, in addition to offering customers the chance to dine at a skrei supper club hosted by chef and skrei ambassador Michel Roux Jr. at its flagship store in Kensington, London.
“As a chef, I am always looking for exceptional ingredients, skrei cod is one of those that never lets me down. The texture, taste and assured quality is what makes skrei one of the finest products to cook with,” said Roux Jr.
The nature of this wild migratory cod means it is not possible to predict the arrival date of skrei to its spawning grounds of Lofoten and Vesteralen. Weather conditions can also affect the catch of the quality product. As such, the arrival and subsequent catch of skrei in northern Norway has been a little later than usual, said Jack-Robert Moller, NSC’s U.K. director.
“Despite this slow start, we are very much looking forward to another strong, high-quality season and we expect the U.K. to have full access to skrei from February until April 2017. It has been highly encouraging to see the demand for skrei increasing since its introduction to the U.K. in 2012 – sales have tripled in this period. We have strong support from the premium retailers, not to mention the finest chefs, fishmongers and of course our distribution partners. This support has allowed skrei to be a fantastic sales success across the U.K. and Europe and the total sales volume to Europe is expected to be 3,000 to 5,000 metric tons (MT) for 2017, depending on availability of the fish,” said Moller.
In order to be classified as skrei, the cod needs to be: caught fully grown before it has spawned (approximately five 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.