reLAKSation no 1020

Not loving: The Sunday Times reminded us that currently most British shellfish remains banned by the EU because Britain is now a third country and therefore can no longer benefit from purification close to the consumer. This is necessary because the shelf life of purified bivalves is not sufficient for them to be exported after purification in the UK. Consequently, the newspaper points out that farms such as Offshore Shellfish in Devon face the prospect of closure as nearly all its production was exported.

Shellfish farmers however must have welcomed the news that the UK Government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were to fund a reported £100,000 promotional campaign during March in partnership with Seafish, which would target species caught by the UK fleet or produced in the UK that are traditionally exported or would go to the hospitality sector.

The four-week campaign running throughout March would promote species including Langoustines, Crab, Lobster, Scallops, Oysters, Clams, Mussels, Squid, Turbot, Plaice, Sole and Monkfish. Seafish said at the time that the campaign would target mid-market families as this demographic already outperforms other target audience groups. The campaign included features in the Daily Mail as well as advertising on selected radio stations.

I only saw the features in the Daily Mail, which I have previously highlighted. This aspect of the campaign ran for three weeks and featured monkfish, plaice and clams. I also encountered an online article in the Daily Mail promoting lobster.

A colleague found a booklet of recipes in his local fishmongers but the only people seeing this would be confirmed fish consumers.

Seafish said that YouGov and One Pulse research would be used to carry out pre- and post- campaign evaluations. However, I suspect that the results will not be published. I have therefore undertaken my own evaluation. One or two days of data might be missing from the end of the campaign but it is unlikely that this would cause any significant change to the results.

I have been monitoring chilled fish and seafood sales since the Pandemic hit and whilst there was a massive jump in sales of around 20% at the start of lockdown, sales have continued to increase monthly but only by an average 0.8% per month. In the month before the campaign got underway, average sales were 1.05% but this dropped to 0.61% during the month-long promotion. This covers all species. The following table displays the percentage sales growth for each of the 12 species highlighted in this campaign.

The star performers were clams and squid, both of which showed an increase in sales over the previous month. All the other species have shown a decrease in sales during the promotion compared to the previous month. However, in the case of oysters this may not be a totally fair comparison because oyster sales probably peaked in February due to St Valentine’s day.

The other species worth consideration is lobster especially as it featured in an article in the Daily Mail. Whilst sales actually fell through the promotion, the fall was not as great as the previous month. Whether this was due to the promotion is unclear.

The article, by the same author of the Daily Mail advertorials, began by saying that we should admit that we are all getting a bit bored by lockdown cooking and thus we need to shake things up with some feel good food. The article continues ‘However much we want to be adventurous, we end up on relying on the same old staples because, frankly, we do not want to be spending too much time – or money – on our nightly suppers. Fortunately, there is a way to liven things up and make things feel special again without draining your bank account.’

The article suggests getting down to the local fishmonger and wowing the family with the likes of succulent lobster.

As part of my weekly routine, I visit a variety of retail outlets and I rarely see lobster. Certainly, it is not something my local fishmonger stocks and I can only think of one fishmonger in the whole of Greater Manchester who might have lobster or can get it quickly. It is not something I would consider as being either value for money or served for a normal nightly supper.

It is interesting that perceptions can be different to reality. According to Seafish, the most expensive fish fall outside the 25 most popular species. The most expensive is listed as swordfish at £43.10/kg although I have seen it for sale at £28/kg. Seafish also say that Monkfish sells at £42.12/kg but it has just been on promotion at £15/kg in one outlet. Halibut is listed at £35.37/kg but I have seen it at £26.39/kg. Ray wings sell for £32.26/kg whilst I have seen them this year on promotion at just £10/kg. Finally, lobster is listed at £27.43/kg which compared to other species seems a really good deal. However, not all is as it seems. I know that if I walked into a specialist fishmonger, I would have to pay more that £27.43/kg for whole lobster. For example, Wright Brothers sell a cooked lobster (average live weight 400-600g) for £34.50 making it around £69/kg. So why, according to Seafish, is lobster so cheap. The answer is simple. It is possible to buy a small whole frozen lobster from some of the multiple retailers for £22.50/kg or less, depending on the time of year. These are typically imported Canadian lobster.

This is not a problem just with lobster. The most accessible clams in retail come from Vietnam, so it is highly possible that some of the species consumed by the public are not even caught by UK fishermen.

The big question is whether this promotion has increased consumption of fish and seafood. My view is that it has made no difference at all. If the weight of all the targeted species is combined, then March has seen a total of 144 tonnes more of these species sold than in the previous month. This is mainly shellfish, so in terms of edible flesh, any gain is negligible. I suspect that UK shellfish growers will not be reassured by these results.

It might be argued that the film Seaspiracy has had a negative impact on sales, but I suspect not. I think that whilst some people have said that they will not be eating fish anymore, they are people who ate very little fish or none at all beforehand.  However, I shall keep monitoring sales to see whether the current patterns change.

Of course, I accept that it is much easier to be critical of other endeavours, but I would mention that Marcus Rashford’s cookery initiative with chef Tom Kerridge has received more publicity in a day than the DEFRA campaign received in a month and has more likelihood of success. Their message is easy to cook recipes.

There could be a lot more mileage by organising local cookery clubs especially, to encourage those who don’t eat fish and seafood to start doing so. We need to wider the consumer base rather than persuade those already eating fish to eat more. I think it is time that the fish and seafood sector started to look outside the box rather than persist with these pointless campaigns that achieve very little.

 

Good Fish: Kyst.no report that Norwegians are eating less fish and seafood than they did in 2013. This is not a surprise as the Norwegian decline in consumption is typical of a similar trend across all Western Europe. This is not because of negative media coverage but simply because consumers have become increasingly distanced from cooking fish. In 2013, Norwegians ate just over 22kg of fish a year whilst today the figure is down to about 19.5kg. This is despite an aspiration to have increased seafood consumption by 20% by 2021.

The Norwegian Seafood Council is now taking new steps to reverse this negative trend. Three years ago, they launched a new ‘3 a week’ digital platform aimed at consumers between 18 and 40 with a message that seafood is good and easy to make. However, according to the Seafood Council, analyses of the campaign revealed weaknesses such as a failure to hit the target group. The Seafood Council is now relaunching the ‘Godfisk’ brand as the identity of new consumer campaigns with the aim of targeting families with children living at home to persuade them to increase the number of dinners made from fish and seafood from once to twice a week. By targeting families, children and young people will benefit from the messaging.

This relaunch of the ‘Godfisk’ brand has being endorsed by the business community, who have praised the new strategy and have great faith in it although they recognise that changing eating habits takes time.

The ‘Godfisk’ campaign has begun with the development of a new logo although the website will undergo only a gradual change with more modern graphics and improved search capability.

However, could it be that the expectation of ‘Godfisk’ may be greater than the delivery? ‘Godfisk’ is not new branding as it had been the leading platform to encourage domestic consumption for up to ten years. It should be remembered that consumption also declined whilst ‘Godfisk’ was in place. Clearly, the change to ‘3 a week’ was implemented because ‘Godfisk’ failed to deliver.

The new target market of families with children is not even that different to the 18-40 age group targeted by ‘3 a week’ as most families with children are likely to be under 40 too.

There is a ‘Godfisk’ website  https://godfisk.no/. My impression is that ‘Godfisk’ is rather uninspiring and has little to offer in the way of stimulating change. I am not sure even a more modern graphic will help. It is just staid.

In common with the UK, the eating fish message is past its sell by date. We need to start thinking out of the box rather than just offer the usual recipes and advice. I have to say that ‘Godfisk’ did try some innovative thinking before it was replaced with a series of videos promoting sushi. One that is still available to watch can be found at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCww8Z9pHfY and takes less than a minute to watch. A second one can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX77DRomJvw with just over a minute running time. However, whilst innovative, they are also very niche for a public campaign.

Perhaps, what is needed is a face for seafood and maybe a young footballer like Kristoffer Ajer or Erling Braut Haaland with whom the public can connect.

 

Branded: Intrafish report that Mowi have launched their branded salmon into the UK market with a listing in Sainsbury’s. In fact, I encountered packs in store before the news broke and I had to look twice because of the absence of any pre-publicity.

According to Mowi, the fresh salmon arena has been pretty much private label compared to smoked salmon which has been more associated with branded. They say that they think that they have such a good product that they can complement the retailer’s private label offering. They continue that they don’t expect to cannibalise sales but rather bring in new consumers to the shelves to boost the category in general.

Having been monitoring retailers for the last twenty-five years, I remain sceptical but am willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Branded products dominate our shelves for two reasons. One is that consumers recognise the product is different and secondly, their presence is boosted by big money advertising.  For example, Coca Cola has a distinct taste from both Pepsi and private label products and consumers including me are loyal to the brand. Coke has become a dominant brand not just because of the taste but also the huge marketing spend that supports the brand.

Mowi brand salmon is not the first attempt to brand fresh salmon. In fact, Marine Harvest branded salmon under the Lochinvar name back in the early 1990s. The fact that you have probably not heard the name is indicative of its success. Most consumers simply are not equipped to differentiate one salmon from another. By this I mean that it is only when one fillet is taste tested against another that slight subtle differences might be apparent but for someone buying a piece of salmon to eat as a once-a-week meal, the chances of noticing any difference are miniscule. The question then is whether consumers will pay more for the branded product, especially if the brand is unfamiliar and is presented in a wider retail environment where brands come and go. I suspect not but equally, Mowi are large enough to support the brand for much longer than many smaller companies so might hope that they might be able to generate some loyalty if the brand remains on the shelves.

In addition, Mowi have run some TV advertising to help increase awareness. It will be interesting to see its message and whether it does resonate with consumers. Only time will tell.

The advert can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=HAtV72yovfU