Kilic’s Sinan Kızıltan sees meagre hope in US market
Kiliç Deniz, one of Turkey’s leading aquaculture and seafood companies, is sensing a meagre opportunity in the United States.
Kiliç exports its products to 65 countries, but its growth strategy is pointed firmly in the direction of the United States, Kılıç Holding Vice President Sinan Kızıltan told SeafoodSource at Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts on 11 March.
The fully-integrated aquaculture operation produces 60,000 metric tons (MT) annually, mostly bass and bream, and both of those products have been selling well as Kılıç expands its reach in the United States, Kızıltan said. But a surprising development for the company has been the U.S. market’s appetite for meagre, a lesser-known species from the Mediterranean.
“The fish is sold out – we don’t have enough fish for the U.S. market,” Kızıltan said. “We didn’t expect sales to go up so much.”
Meagre only represents about five percent of Kılıç’s sales in the U.S. and is therefore still a niche product. Kızıltan said he has much larger ambitions for his company’s sea bass, or branzino, which accounts for 90 percent of the company’s American sales.
“I think uses of branzino will expand in the U.S,” he said. “First of all, it’s a Mediterranean product. A lot of American customers go to Mediterranean countries for tourism, and when they go there, they taste branzino. When they come back, they cannot find such a delicious fish. With other fish, they have to add sauce because it has no taste, but branzino has a very delicious taste by itself.”
However, an American aversion to head-on fish means Kılıç is pushing value-added products stateside.
“Frozen fillets, butterfly fillets are growing in sales in restaurants, so people are getting more familiar with the fish,” Kızıltan said. “[Another] problem is that it is very expensive in the U.S.; it’s a premium product and some supermarkets try to get a lot of profit out of it."
To lower its costs and decrease the time it takes for its products to reach U.S. fish markets, Kılıç opened a bass and bream farm in the Dominican Republic in July 2017. Kızıltan said the first harvest from that farm will hit seafood counters in September 2018.
Kılıç also recently opened a new office and cold storage facility in Miami, and the company now supplies five points in the U.S. with fresh delivery multiple times per week, Kızıltan said.
The efforts have paid off, with Kılıç’s sales in U.S. growing 50 percent in 2017 over the previous year. The company’s goal is to make branzino more affordable and more available to U.S. customers, Kızıltan said.
“We don’t want it to be an expensive fish,” he said. “We want it to be a reachable fish.”