Improved Awareness Of Quality Of Seafood
Traceability, country of origin and labelling and food safety are now all key features of seafood products on the European supermarket shelves today. As well as being a good thing for the consumer, it is also good news for the seafood operators following the legislation, who can prove it, therefore demanding higher standards.
Birgitta Hedin-Curtin, MD & founder of Irish seafood supplier Burren Smokehouse, says that with all the discussion and awareness on the quality of seafood in general, consumers ask questions and demand answers.
“Consumers want to know the country of origin. Our French and German customers rate Irish seafood very highly, and appreciate the quality of the product, and the organic certification. The family business is in operation for over 25 years and its product range includes Burren smoked Irish organic salmon - cold smoked and hot smoked as well as marinades such as honey, lemon & dill, seaweed and more.
Working in food tourism on the west coast of Ireland - the Wild Atlantic Way - in County Clare, Burren Smokehouse is also part of the Burren Eco-Tourism Network with a visitor centre showcasing the traditional and ancient craft of smoking salmon. “We operate individual and corporate mail order, and also sell wholesale to speciality food shops in our own market, and in the UK, including upmarket stores Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Selfridges.
“The ethically-sourced seafood product is an opportunity and a niche that can demand higher prices and reasonable margins. Direct chains to consumers, and fewer steps to wholesale markets, can be achieved with a higher quality and ethically sourced product, she believes.
As for sustainability in the sector, she says: “If you look at the definition of sustainable seafood as ‘seafood fished or farmed in a manner that can maintain or increase production in the long term, without jeopardising the health or function of the web of life in our oceans’, I do notice that our customers care about this concept and would like to use their money to support it and buy ethically.” The supplier has very loyal customers for its Burren Smoked Irish Organic Salmon range. “Once people taste our products, they are convinced of the quality and understand the difference as compared to a mass-produced product.”
Sally Ferns Barnes, owner of Woodcock Smokery, believes that fish is a popular choice as it is a “totally natural foodstuff”, easy and quick to cook, and, when fresh, requires almost no other ingredients to prepare a fast and very healthy meal.
“We have evolved as a species on the planet alongside fish, and they have always been an important feature of our diets over time. Scares and scandals in the food industry may be pushing consumers towards a much more simple offering, which has had less processing done, and which has no further ingredients added.” Since the horsemeat scandal, consumers have become much more concerned with provenance and integrity of products on the market, she explains. “Sadly, price is the determining factor to whether or not families will buy ethically-sourced goods.”
Global marketing of fishery products can have an impact on local, indigenous, fishing systems, she says, and the families involved - wherever they are. “Imported fish impact on local prices, but do offer consumers a wider variety of cheaper offerings – surely a help to European households in these difficult times?” Barnes believes that world population is such that very little can properly be described as ‘sustainable’ in terms of human dietary needs. “We are taking out of too many eco-systems, such a wide variety of species, which we know too little about, exploiting them to the point of extinction before we fully understand the role which they play in the bigger picture.”
Environmentally speaking, some activities and practices are based on human greed with little or no regard for other life-forms, or the long-term consequences for entire ecosystems, she adds. “We work exclusively with wild fish, mostly sourced within 20km of where we operate from.” Customers know the provenance of their food and the ethos of the producer. “The products enjoy minimal processing, with no additives apart from salt, wood smoke, and lots of time and care. We use a ‘smoke-curing’ system, to give the best shelf life for what is, by its very nature, a highly-perishable foodstuff.”
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