Few people were surprised when land-based fish farming new boy Salmon Evolution announced last month that it was looking to North America for long term growth prospects.

The company, due to start production at its first Norwegian facility later this year, clearly sees it as the region with the most promising potential. The Norwegian Seafood Council also has its eye on the other side of the Atlantic which is why the US will receive a significant increase in the organisation’s marketing budget this year.

France, another key market is also attracting special attention from the Seafood Council. Americans, it seems, cannot get enough salmon, but in France seafood consumption has fallen back since the end of lockdown and the Council want to reverse that trend.

Three or four years ago China and Japan topped the “hit list” for northern hemisphere salmon exporters. The Far East remains important with the Seafood Council holding a webinar on China last month which showed that fish continues to be a favourite among the Chinese who view it as their most important food import. Continuing problems with Covid and higher air transport costs following the war in Ukraine have taken off some of the shine, however. Viewers at the webinar were told that while China has stabilised the coronavirus situation, the country’s “zero case” policy is having a negative impact on the population’s willingness to spend. This has led to a 10% reduction in all-type grocery sales, although online shopping is picking up.

Europe and the US are easier and cheaper to access and they have more affluent consumers. The Seafood Council says the US was the largest growth market for Norwegian seafood in the first quarter of this year, with salmon leading the pack. Up to May this year, seafood exports to the USA have increased by NOK 1bn (£83m) compared with the same period last year, to a total of NOK 4.2bn (£348m). Measured in volume, exports of seafood increased during the period by 1% to 46,000 tonnes. Salmon, cod and haddock prices are currently at a historic high, while trout and king crab are also performing particularly well.

Anne-Kristine Øen, the Council’s US envoy, said in April that the US economy is strong, despite supply chain challenges and inflation which is now at its highest level for 40 years.  More than 90% of the jobs lost at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic are back, and the unemployment rate is down to 3.6%. Delivering an update for June, she said that the chief concerns now are high food and energy prices, but so far they have not dented the broader economy.

Despite inflationary and other economic challenges, the Seafood Council wants to maintain the momentum that began earlier this year, which is why it is prepared to spend more. Øen says: “The budget for salmon has doubled from NOK 10m to 20m (£833,000 to £1.66m) while the budget for whitefish has been increased from NOK 4m to 7m (£330,000 to £580,000).

In addition, the Seafood Council is investing 1 million kroner (£83,000) in shellfish promotion this year. She adds: “The United States is a market in strong growth. In 2021, Norway exported 55,000 tonnes (+ 19%) of salmon to the United States worth NOK 5.7 bn (+ 12%).

“There was also good growth in the export of cod and haddock, as well as trout, king crab and snow crab.

“In total, we exported 100,000 tonnes of seafood to the country (up 18%) worth NOK 8bn, or £664,000, (up 17%).

“Based on this development, the Norwegian Seafood Council’s market groups have been clear that the USA is one of the markets that should be prioritised with strengthened budgets.

“This is of course very gratifying and welcome. The strengthening of the budget means that we in the US can now work more directly towards consumers.

“In recent years, the strategy has been to work towards the value chain. We are now well under way with the work of changing strategy, tactics and marketing plans, and will return with more information about this after the summer holidays.

“Through the shellfish investment, we will give the king crab and the snow crab a real boost. This will be a pure ‘business to business’ investment.”

French fancies

So what of France, the land with the most Michelin three-star rated restaurants? It is a mixed picture when it comes to fish.

Overall salmon consumption in May this year dropped by 29% to 1,999 tonnes, compared with May 2021, although smoked salmon sales appear to be holding up. On the plus side, salmon consumption is 2% higher on the pre-pandemic month of May 2019, which suggests that during the toughest lockdown periods people were buying salmon in large quantities and taking it home to cook. Cod consumption has followed a broadly similar trend.

Given the many complexities and distortions following Covid, it might be premature to read too much into current figures.  Dining out stopped completely for a time before stuttering back to life, while shopping habits underwent radical change.  People were forced to eat at home so fish, and salmon in particular became a popular household choice.

In France old habits die hard. While salmon remains highly popular, the figures suggest French consumers, after being almost locked up for two years, are returning big time to traditional menu favourites now restaurants have fully re-opened. Provided there is not another pandemic lurking somewhere, it may take a couple of years before the industry can get a true picture of the way things are going.

Meanwhile, Trine Horne, the Seafood Council’s Paris based envoy is in no doubt about her mission. She says: “This year’s campaign aims to get French people to continue consuming salmon and at the same time increase their preference for Norwegian origin.

“The campaign is divided into two parts. The second will be run at the end of the year to take advantage of salmon’s popularity around Christmas and New Year.”

The recently completed spring campaign consisted of a TV sponsorship before and after various food programs on the TV channel France 3, a video campaign online and a campaign on social media.

“Print ads have also been used in some of France’s largest trade magazines: LSA, Linéraires, Points de Vente and Rungis Actualité.”

She adds: “In parallel with the media campaign, various PR activities have also been carried out to promote Norwegian salmon in France.”

Around Easter, the Seafood Council participated in one of the large French Street food markets in Paris “le Food Market” where “salmon rolls” were served to food-loving Parisians. The Seafood Council has also collaborated with the Demotivateur Group, one of the leading French digital entertainment media for millennials.

“Together with them, we have made a ‘tips and tricks’ video to show the French different ways to cook salmon,” she adds.

“And last but not least, we have worked with French influencers who have cooked salmon at home and shared photos and videos on social media, as well as publishing an article in collaboration with the French industry magazine LSA to reach out to professionals.”

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