Victoria Braathen dishes on Norway’s push into China
In recent years, the Norwegian Seafood Council worked to create high-end branding for Norwegian salmon and “Arctic cod” in China, allowing Norwegian exports to earn premium prices in upmarket Chinese retail and foodservice outlets. NSC China Director Victoria Braathen spoke with SeafoodSource about the organization’s current and future efforts in China.
SeafoodSource: What are your priorities for 2019 in terms of your marketing activities?
Braathen: In 2019, NSC China will continue focusing on Norwegian salmon. As more Norwegian salmon is entering China, we will [continue] building on the strong position Norwegian salmon holds in the market. Since 2014, NSC has also been working on promotion of Norwegian Arctic cod and this is an ongoing focus area.
SeafoodSource: The COFCO-Pelagia partnership is promoting Norwegian mackerel. Is that a new priority for NSC in China?
Braathen: A new and very exciting project of 2019 is Norwegian pelagics in China. We believe several of the Norwegian pelagic species, led by Norwegian mackerel, have a very good potential in the China market, and this is something we look forward to further exploring together with the Norwegian pelagic seafood industry and local partners. The partnership between COFCO and Pelagia is an illustration of the potential of Norwegian mackerel both in food service and for home cooking. As our market research shows, Norwegian mackerel is recognized in the market as a top-quality seafood product.
SeafoodSource: Is it surprising to you that Norwegian mackerel is so well-recognized in the Chinese market? In markets and supermarkets, there’s lots of mackerel for sale, but it’s Pacific mackerel sold at low prices. How do you compete in such a crowded category?
Braathen: My point is that Norwegian mackerel, is recognized and preferred as a top-quality product among industry stakeholders. Norwegian mackerel is highly valued by Japanese restaurants in China, especially the middle- to high-end brands. This provides a very good starting points for further market work. While most of the Norwegian mackerel today exported to China is intended for re-export, the domestic consumption of mackerel has an increasing trend in the China market.
SeafoodSource: How did your Arctic cod campaign work out in terms of increasing consumption of this product in China?
Braathen: The work on Norwegian Arctic cod is ongoing, and we see an increasing presence of Norwegian Arctic cod in the market. Market efforts on Norwegian Arctic cod is at the same time a long-term effort, and we still need to focus on positioning and further promoting of the qualities of Norwegian Arctic cod. In this context, is it very positive to see the reception of Norwegian Arctic cod in the market. According to our annual consumer surveys, Norway is the number-one country of origin for cod in China.
SeafoodSource: What kind of growth are you seeing year-on-year for your cod sales in China? There is some confusion in the Chinese market about what cod actually is, with products such as “French silver cod” being sold for high prices online. Does this impact or help sales?
Braathen: When it comes to the variety of cod fish in the market, there is certainly work to be done in terms of further positioning and differentiating Norwegian Arctic cod from other cod species. While we do not have exact figures, our understanding based on industry feedback is that there is an increasing growth in the domestic consumption. We also see that the strong position of Norwegian salmon, is contributing to building preference and associations to other seafood products from Norway.
SeafoodSource: Have you identified any other opportunities which you think exist for particular species from Norway in China?
Braathen: Demand for seafood among Chinese consumers is expected to increase significantly coming years. We definitely view the changes taking place in the market, reinforcing the position of Chinese consumers, as an opportunity to further promote a broader range of Norwegian seafood products in the market. As part of our overall strategy, shellfish is another branch of seafood we look forward to further introduce in the market in the time to come.
SeafoodSource: If demand increases significantly in China, how will that impact on prices and supply of seafood such as Norwegian salmon? Will supply match demand? And do you think the various projects underway to raise salmon in China will become a realistic alternative to imports?
Braathen: Salmon demand in China is expected to rise significantly coming years. We see a development in the market, with the aim of facilitating more production of higher quality seafood. Our view is that production of salmon in China represents an expansion of the salmon category. More diversified supply creates further opportunities to leverage on product qualities and characteristics.
SeafoodSource: Salmon has obviously been a big success in China. Are Norwegian companies working on any new niche markets or value-added salmon products for China?
Braathen: China is moving quickly and product development and innovation in this context is important. Our consumer survey shows that Chinese consumers are increasing aware of healthy living. We especially see that young, educated Chinese consumers look for quality, safety, and nutritious food. In our view, Norwegian seafood goes hand-in-hand with the modern food trends in China. This represents ample opportunities for Norwegian seafood companies working towards the China market.
SeafoodSource: What else did your survey reveal about that market that may have surprised you or which will impact on your plans for China?
Braathen: Talking about channels, our surveys confirm that online is fast-developing [but] currently, offline is still the preferred alternative for buying seafood. Overcoming barriers concerning trust and freshness will contribute to increasing the position of online when it comes to seafood purchasing in the time to come. Compared to other seafood markets, China clearly leads the way in online and e-commerce when it comes to place of purchase.
SeafoodSource: How important is a China-Norway free trade agreement for the seafood sector?
Braathen: We saw some very positive steps in the bilateral relations between Norway and China last year, marked by the state visit from Norway to China. Both from the seafood industry in Norway and China the ongoing free trade negotiations are followed closely. Leveling the playing field when it comes to seafood trade with China is very important.
SeafoodSource: What do you mean by levelling the playing field? You mean an free trade agreement similar to that of Australia and Chile with China? And in regard to such an agreement, do you think low (or zero) tax on Norwegian salmon imports would reduce smuggling of Norwegian salmon into China?
Braathen: A [free trade agreement] will presumably contribute to zero and or reduced tariffs on Norwegian seafood products to China. In a market with increasing competition, securing more equal terms of trade is important. More broadly, an FTA will also contribute establishing a bilateral framework for conducting of trade. We are following the seafood trade between Norway to China based on Norwegian export figures and Chinese import data. Seafood trade between Norway and China is taking positive steps. As of the first quarter of 2019, China is the largest growth markets for Norwegian seafood in value, and Norwegian export of fresh salmon to China is up by nearly 60 percent compared to same time last year.