Monthly Archives: December 2014

Norwegian Fish Adapts to Local Culinary Traditions

Norwegian fish is influencing global seafood traditions. Norwegian salmon colors the dishes of sushi and sashimi displays around the world. In Brazil, Portugal and several other countries, Norway is associated with bacalao – dried cod. In Turkey, it is neither salmon nor cod that are the most visible, but mackerel.

A walk along the street and night markets of Istanbul, taking in the restaurants and the ferry docks, clearly demonstrates why exports of Norwegian mackerel to Turkey have increased, thus making the country, one of the largest importers of Norwegian mackerel. You can find the delicious fish everywhere, in restaurants and numerous small food outlets.

If you look at restaurant menus in Portugal and Spain you will quickly determine that bacalao is a must in any restaurant. It is alleged that there are as many ways to cook bacalao, as there are days in one year. Even in times of financial trouble there is something no one is allowed to take from the Portuguese; the enjoyment of eating bacalao. Without the supplies of Norwegian cod, it would not have been possible to keep the bacalao traditions alive.

Norwegians savor a hot dog when they are in a hurry and just in need of a quick bite to eat. The Dutch, young and old, happily eat matjes herring in bread. Much of the matjes herring is made from Norwegian herring.

Uskumru

Not long ago, I strolled around the area at the Galata Bridge in the European part of Istanbul. On the west side of the bridge, on the dock next to the New Mosque ‘Yeni Cami,’ I saw street vendors gathered on the pier. Under the bridge there is a restaurant area where a large number of restaurants sell seafood.

On my way to the restaurants, I stop at a small fast food trolley, rigged up with a gas barbeque, a cabinet for storing bread and fish, and of course, a gas cylinder. Fish fillets are called “Uskumru” – mackerel in English, and are always Norwegian mackerel. Last year, Turkey was the fourth largest market for Norwegian mackerel, after Japan, China and South Korea.

Turkey – import of mackerel and herring

Product 2011 2012 2013
1000 Tons 1000 NOK 1000 Tons 1000 NOK 1000 Tons 1000 NOK
Fresh mackerel 8 174 5 113 1 29
Frozen mackerel 19.167 206.427 18.799 178.433 19.795 184.075
Frozen herring 348 2.845 778 3.255 277 1.321

Source: Norwegian Seafood Council

Exports of frozen mackerel to Turkey continue to increase. An increase of 17 percent, and if the increase stays on throughout the year, it will mean that mackerel exports to Turkey will be around 23,000 tons.

The seller at the little street kitchen grills mackerel fillets served inside a small loaf. I ask him’’ what kind of fish fillet he sells? The seller instantly confirms – Uskumru ekmek – mackerel in bread, before he specifies that the fish is Uskumru from Norway.

Failure of own fisheries

When asked if he has Turkish mackerel, he shakes his head,and explains that there is very little Turkish mackerel. The Turkish capture of Atlantic mackerel in the 1960s was around 2,500 tons per year. Now the registered catch is less than 500 tonsa year. This quantity is nowhere near to meeting the demand.

Most travel guides, whether books or online guides, mention mackerel in bread when reviewing cuisine and culinary traditions in Istanbul. Some have even discovered that the mackerel Turks so immensely appreciate is Norwegian.

More than mackerel local fish

I check the menus one by one as I go along seafood restaurants under the famous Galatea Bridge. Here there is Norwegian salmon on every menu. Mackerel is an equally important item. Many restaurants have more mackerel dishes than salmon dishes. In fact, more dishes than there are local fish species. This is because the mackerel is suitable to be prepared in many different ways.

When I get to the last in a stretch of a dozen fish restaurants, I sit down. I order mackerel salad. It is cold, marinated mackerel, eaten with bread. In addition, I order some grilled mackerel. The waiter advises me that maybe I should choose two different species. I smile and agree, and explain that I like mackerel very much.

The picture on the menu showed a whole mackerel, but I was served two pan-fried mackerel fillets. It is the most common way of cooking mackerel. Many appreciate that there are very few bones in the fillets, if any at all. In addition, the Turks love the taste – the beautiful taste of mackerel.

There are countless ways to cook mackerel. Smoked is common. Whole mackerel stuffed with a mixture of onions, pine nuts, walnuts and other goodies is available at more up market restaurants. Most people in Istanbul prefer the mackerel to be served in bread loafs. When the riots took place in Taxim Square some months ago, barbecue kitchens were set up on the edge of the square so that the protesters could eat their fill of mackerel.

Adapts and develops traditions

The Turkish consumption of mackerel says a lot about how Norwegian fish has both adapted to local traditions, and how it probably also has helped to develop new traditions. Salmon is sold worldwide – even in tropical countries where it has never swum. Bacalao has a market built on Iberian traditions. Herring has never been an Egyptian fish – but the Egyptians consumes tens of thousands of tons, imported from Norway and several other Northwest Atlantic countries. Most of the herring eaten is hot smoked.

Renaissance for mackerel

Japanese sushi and sashimi traditions changed, when it years ago was discovered that Norwegian salmon were free of parasites, and in addition, had a perfect taste and texture. Making raw Norwegian salmon both delicious and safe to eat. Now the Japanese sushi and sashimi traditions have virtually spread throughout the entire world. Sushi and sashimi is a trendy food among young people all over the globe. Had sushi and sashimi not evolved into a global trend the demand for salmon would be lower.

There are many other examples of Norwegian fish that have become an integral part of the local culinary traditions in different countries around the world. Norwegian mackerel has given rise to a renaissance of a Turkish food tradition, a tradition that was about to disappear because of the failure of the local mackerel fisheries. Sushi- and sashimi would not have become a global trend without Norwegian salmon. The Norwegian salmon’s success as sashimi and sushi has probably relieved the pressure on endangered tuna stocks.

This year the export of Norwegian salmon will reach more than 1.2 million tons. The fishing fleet will catch nearly 450,000 tons of Atlantic cod and 290,000 tons of mackerel. Such volumes of fish are deemed to influence the eating habits and culinary traditions in many countries.

Shrimp Producer is Focusing on Sushi From Cod

Coldwater Prawns of Norway AS from Ålesund has had great success out in the world with their Norwegian cold water shrimp. They have also reaped praise and honor for their innovative work, most recently being picked as Norway’s business of the year for 2014. Now, the company has turned its sights toward new horizons, toward the sushi industry. With patented, homespun packaging and products, they’re going to conquer the world with sushi from Norwegian cod.

Cod is not a new species for Coldwater Prawns of Norway. Now, however, more and more of the cod will be sent as frozen merchandize to Vietnam to be processed into sushi, packaged and released as an exclusive quality product at a relatively high price, and with the entire world as a market.

Japanese business partner

-We have entered into a partnership with a large Japanese company, Okamura, which has three factories in Vietnam for the production of sushi toppings from trout and salmon. They now produce our sushi products from Norwegian cod, which are packed in exclusively designed boxes and bags. We have also entered into a partnership with the same company for sales in Japan and the United States, where Okamura already is prominent as far as sushi from salmon and trout go. All cod used in sushi is fished by our own boats, says CEO Knut Helge Vestre.

He has great faith in the company’s new product, and he also has great faith in the future of sushi. Sushi markets have grown immensely around the world.  This is just the beginning of a trend, according to CEO Knut Helge Vestre.  Japan has great expertise when it comes to sushi and Vietnam’s expertise lie in production. Thus the cooperation with Okamura simplified the process.

Vestre has still spent a lot of time on development and design. They have created a finished concept of trademark, registered sushi from cod which is ready for sale in the stores freezers along with other sushi items like sashimi, sushi or tapas products. They have also made packages for deliveries to producers of finished sushi trays, to restaurants and hotels. The new product is already present in Norway, for example in Coop Norway’s stores, and the response in the domestic market has so far been very good. Now the rest of the world market is next.

Sells 100% Norwegian shrimp

Coldwater Prawns of Norway is, as the name implies, first and foremost known as a manufacturer of Norwegian shrimp. That means that the entire chain of events, from capture to sale is Norwegian. CEO Vestre emphasizes that they today are the country’s largest producer of shrimp. The company is also the only one in the world to only sell 100 percent Norwegian shrimp. Also worth noting is that the prawns are MSC, KRAV and Friends of the sea certified.

-It is extremely important when it comes to marketing that producers are not using Norway’s trademark logo on shrimp from other areas, but that are not 100 percent Norwegian. This is crucial if Norway is to avoid remaining as a pure raw material producer. That also applies to seafood products other than shrimp. I mean that in order to be able to use the Norwegian brand logo, the product must be fished by Norwegian boats in Norwegian waters and be produced at Norwegian plants by Norwegian companies. Then the whole value chain, from capture to sale is Norwegian, ensures a unique product that no one can take from you, says the dedicated CEO.

Biting our own tale

-This is not the situation today, but this is the way it will have to be if Norway is going to survive as a seafood nation. If not we will end up biting our own tale and become a threat to our own existence and thereby losing out on the unique concept. The same applies to the white fish sector. If you are unable to call attention to what is unique, you lose out on price in all the markets. For shrimp, this is extra important. If we do not manage to build a brand name for shrimp this will soon be an industry for the few, and Norway will have lost out, Vestre continues.

He mentions as an example of the importance of maintaining what is uniquely Norwegian, by comparing the Norwegian cold water shrimp with the shrimp being fished by Canada in their waters. These shrimp have the same Latin name, Pandalus Borealis. But there are still major differences. Canadian shrimp are caught in shallow water and they have a completely different color, taste, and consistency than the Norwegian counterpart. Norwegian shrimp is fished in much deeper, colder water. Because of that they grow slower and therefore have firmer meat in addition to being redder in appearance and sweeter in taste.

The world’s cleanest product

-In other words one this is one of the world’s purest products “says Knut Helge West. The company’s sales manager, Adelaide Stenevik agrees. She adds that some of the markets are fully aware of this difference, and are willing to pay more for Norwegian shrimp, while still others are completely unaware of this.

When mentioning Canada, it is worth noting that it is not only in the consistency, color, and taste that they differ, it is also in sheer volume. Norway is a very small player compared to the giant in the West when it comes to shrimp. Last year approximately 6,500 ton of Norwegian shrimp were fished by Norwegian boats in the Barents Sea. The Canadian boats fished the same volume in a month. With such differences, it is extra important to highlight the Norwegian brand name and emphasize that the products are 100 percent Norwegian.

When we visited Coldwater Prawns of Norway’s main office in Ålesund in May, the company was content with its own situation. The operation is going well, the market for Norwegian cold water shrimp is good and the price for shrimp is high. Norwegian shrimp was selling for approximately 23 kroner per kilo while the Canadian shrimp was getting 10-12 kroner per kilo.

Large cod population is bad for business

But Norwegian shrimp fishing in the Barents Sea has been poor for a long period because the shrimp have been frightened and therefore scattered over large areas. This of course makes them hard to catch. Knut Helge Vestre believes the huge amount of cod in the area is the main reason. The fishing has been so bad that there are two Norwegian shrimp trawlers that long ago gave up commercial shrimp fishing and turned to other kinds of fishing. The CEO sees no short term solution to the situation. But he does not complain, since the market is good and the prices are good. The demand for Norwegian shrimp is particularly good in large parts of Europe and Asia.

-It is an advantage to be small when the raw material situation is as it is at the present, “says Knut Helge Western in Coldwater Prawns of Norway AS. He adds that the company does well financially in terms of both sales and profit. The bottom line, according to him could have been better, but it has a lot to do with the use of funds for future development.

This year the CEO expects to reach a turnover of 350-360 million dollars, not including the shrimp factory in Senjahopen in northern Norway. Senjahopen is singled out as a separate company with a 160-170 million in annual turnover and approximately 22 employees. But the whole administration is run from the head office in Ålesund, where there are five employees.

Finally it is worth mentioning that at Innovation Norway’s award ceremony June 3rd Coldwater Prawns of Norway received the business of the year award. And it is not the first honorable distinction for the company either. In 2012 Coldwater Prawns of Norway was picked as the Gazelle Company of the year in Norway, and was at the same time as fourth for the entire country. It is also worth noting that it is the first time ever that a seafood company has received Norway’s business of the year award.

Banner NS