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reLAKSation no 1153

Premature:  Covid brought about a major change to home consumption of chilled fish. There had been a dramatic increase the purchase of chilled fish in April 2020 as lockdown hit the UK but following a peak in July 2021, demand has fallen every month since. Consumption peaked at 201,342 tonnes but has fallen to 165,900 tonnes in September this year. However, anyone looking at the data closely that month might have seen a glimmer of hope. Sales of chilled cod increased by 33 tonnes in September. This may seem a small amount but after months of decline this was a significant moment.

It was therefore with some anticipation that I waited for the publication of the October Nielsen for SeaFish retail data, and I was not to be disappointed. Overall, consumption of all chilled fish increased by 817 tonnes. Cod continued to increase by 35 tonnes whilst salmon increased by 183 tonnes.  Sea bass increased by 13 tonnes and haddock by 128 tonnes. Unfortunately, this increase did not extend to all species but it was a start.

Sadly, this reversal in consumption did not last long as November has seen overall chilled fish volumes fall by 151 tonnes with salmon falling again by 147 tonnes. Yet, whilst the overall trend is down, cod has continued to increase by 125 tonnes and sea bass by just 2 tonnes.

The question is whether home consumption of chilled fish has now levelled off or whether the declines will continue? I shall be closely watching for any indication of the future overall trend. What is clear is that contrary to the critics who claim that concerns over salmon production are deterring customers, the reality is that the price of salmon is still the determining factor, as is it for other chilled fish species too. I suspect that deals on cod are fuelling the longer run of increases in cod, all be they small, especially amongst older consumers. Watch this space.


Eat cod: Back in October, Seafood Source wrote about a new campaign in the UK to promote the consumption of more Norwegian cod. The Norwegian Seafood Council say that inflation and the soaring coast of living have taken their toll on consumers’ wallets over the last two years but that they hope to alleviate that pressure by encouraging more eat at-home consumption of sustainable yet affordable Norwegian cod. The promotion will take the form of ‘Explore’ a new omni-channel recipe-focussed campaign. They are hoping that this will resonate well with a growing demographic of consumers who are looking to expand their seafood consumption because it provides a healthy, sustainable and delicious meal option.

The campaign ran from October to the middle of November and is expected to reach 30 million UK consumers. The campaign will include advertising across London, strategic digital media advertising and home -cooked influencer content. In-store placements at retails such as Asda, Waitrose and Sainsburys were also to be featured.

The Seafood Source article was accompanied by a picture of a poster displayed at a bus shelter. I encountered one alongside a busy main road in East London.

Sadly, I don’t think that there was much interaction with the public. I watched for a while at a busy time and none of the passersby gave the poster a second glance. The part of the poster that interested me most was at the bottom where it stated: ‘Find delicious Norwegian cod in your local supermarket’ and more importantly and highlighted in red: ‘Origin Matters’.

Many years ago, the International Salmon Farmers Association commissioned a study of what prompts shoppers to buy salmon and origin was well down the list. Ever since then I have struggled to find examples where origin does matter. I acknowledge that there are a handful of examples where origin might matter, but usually, there are other factors at play too. For the majority, I believe that origin remains a low priority.

The poster tells consumers to look for Norwegian cod in local supermarkets with the Seafood Source article suggesting Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

I shall start with Asda as they have previously partnered with the Norwegian Seafood Council to promote Norwegian cod by placing stickers with their logo on packs. Asda now incorporate the Norwegian origin on the actual label of chilled cod so there is no doubt as to its origin.

As shoppers have no choice if they wish to buy chilled cod, they will buy fish of Norwegian origin regardless. However, there was nothing in store to indicate the wider promotion was underway. Shoppers buying fish on-line were faced with a small promotional display.

This repeats the ‘Origin Matters’ message but clearly origin doesn’t matter that much to all Asda shoppers. Those opting to buy their cod frozen rather than chilled will find that there is no origin stated except that it is packed in China.

At no time during the campaign did I see any evidence of promotional activity in Sainsburys.  There might have been a page in the Sainsbury’s magazine, but this Is a paid-for publication rather than the usual free give away supermarket magazine.

Sainsbury’s chilled cod fillets whether standard or premium (Taste the Difference) carry no reference to Norway or any other origin.

Like Asda, Sainsbury’s frozen cod is packed in China but with fish caught in the Northeast Atlantic including amongst others, the Norwegian Sea.

Finally, the third store suggested is Waitrose. Their weekly newspaper included a full-page promotion of three recipes using Norwegian cod. However, all recipes recommended using Waitrose frozen cod fillets, although the front of the pack does not mention the Norwegian origin. By comparison, Waitrose chilled cod does mention origin. Icelandic origin.

Although Seafood Source did not mention Marks & Spencer, their cod is also labelled front of pack as Norwegian.

However, their frozen cod is labelled as Icelandic.

The question is does origin matter? I am not convinced. Cod is cod regardless of where it comes from. Whether one source of cod is better than another ultimately depends on how the fish is handled and packed.

Asda’s cod may say Norwegian on the front but the back label states ‘Filleted and packed in Great Grimsby with cod caught by hooks and lines in the North East Atlantic Ocean (Norwegian Sea, Spitzbergen, and Bear Island).

The second question is whether the campaign has changed the hearts and minds of British consumers to eat more cod whether Norwegian or not. The data discussed in the first commentary would suggest not.

I have watched many promotional campaigns over the years and can’t say that many have worked. What works for fizzy drinks or detergent doesn’t seem to work for fish probably because there are many other factors influencing fish consumption. Perhaps it is time to start thinking outside the box if the intention is to reverse the current downward trends and persuade consumers to eat more fish regardless of its origin.


Bistro: Some time ago, I discussed the launch of Mowi’s Bistro Bakes range into Sainsbury’s and Asda. After taste testing three of the four products in the range, I suggested that I did not think that they had a future in the retail sector. They were promoted as restaurant quality for home consumption, but I did not think they lived up to their billing. Surprisingly, the product that tasted best lasted the shortest time and the one I least liked lasted longest. Sadly, they lasted about five months before being quietly withdrawn from the shelves.

Interestingly, Tesco have launched a couple of salmon dishes under their own Finest label. One of them – Finest Achari style salmon with spicy potatoes – really tastes good. It is made for Tesco by Mowi.